Community Conversations: Preparing for the Academic Year

News subtitle

The provost and alumni guests discuss the challenges of reopening campus this fall.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health CEO Joanne Conroy '77 and Neal Katyal '91
Provost Joseph Helble’s alumni guests were Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health CEO Joanne Conroy ’77 and Neal Katyal ’91, former acting solicitor general of the United States.

Watch the June 24 Community Conversation with Provost Joseph Helble and guests Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health CEO Joanne Conroy ’77 and Neal Katyal ’91, former acting solicitor general of the United States.

All undergraduates will have the opportunity to study on campus over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year—though not all at the same time, Provost Joseph Helble said Wednesday during the weekly Community Conversations webcast, a live video broadcast about Dartmouth’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our goal is to offer two residential terms for every returning student who can and who chooses to be on campus this upcoming academic year,” Helble said.

The full plan, which will be released in an email to the community on Monday, June 29, will cover fall 2020 through summer 2021, and will reflect a mix of residential and remote learning.

“From the outset, President Hanlon and I have stressed our goal of supporting the maximum number of students we can return to campus, guided first and foremost by the application of appropriate public health standards,” said Helble, who spoke as usual from the Starr Studio in Dartmouth Library’s Berry Library.

“Community health—our students, our faculty, our staff, and the broader Upper Valley community—is at the forefront of our minds in our decision-making.”

While aspects of the plan are still being finalized, Helble revealed some key details. For example, returning students will be asked to agree to be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive on campus and as directed throughout the term. And everyone on campus will be expected to comply with Dartmouth’s mask-wearing and social-distancing policies and to participate in Dartmouth’s contact-tracing program, which Helble said he expects will include both in-person and digital components.

In determining which students will be on campus when, priority will be given to keeping the incoming Class of 2024 together as a cohort, and to maintaining a low-density population in residence halls so that each student can live in their own room, with space on campus for quarantined students as needed.

“We anticipate that beyond the first-year class, other students will be able to express some preference in determining which terms work best with their academic plan of study,” Helble said.

That said, Helble acknowledged that “fall will be different from a typical term for residential students here and elsewhere.” Among the differences: Social gatherings will be limited, and “much of our teaching may well be done via remote learning, even for those physically present in Hanover.”

Dartmouth is partnering with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) to implement testing and monitoring systems for students, faculty, and staff. Joining Helble via Zoom from DHMC in Lebanon, N.H., Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health President and CEO Joanne Conroy ’77 said the medical center currently has the capacity to complete 1,000 COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab tests a day, and expects to increase that to 1,500 soon.

“You get results overnight, so it’s actually quite fast,” Conroy said. “And for the majority of the students that come back on campus, and faculty, there’s a way to really create a cadence for testing so people get their results very quickly.”

DHMC researchers are also exploring new methods of testing and community monitoring—including wastewater testing—and Conroy hopes some of these will be ready to be applied to the Dartmouth community by September.

Conroy held up as reason for hope the Upper Valley community’s substantial success in containing the virus since DHMC identified the first confirmed case in New England on Feb. 28. The current rate of positive COVID-19 tests in all of DHMC’s testing in the community is 2.5%—“very, very low,” Conroy said.

“What that first patient did is activate the entire Upper Valley,” she said. “The Upper Valley community has been a great partner. They have taken this to heart—they self-quarantine if they are ill, they stay at home, they wear masks, they obey all the rules to stay healthy.”

At the medical center itself, mask and face-screen policies, coupled with aggressive contact tracing, testing, and quarantine protocols have to date helped prevent a wider outbreak, Conroy said.

To discuss some of the tradeoffs in privacy Dartmouth is asking students to make in exchange for an in-person educational experience, Helble was joined by Neal Katyal ’91, former acting solicitor general of the United States and parent of a Dartmouth student. Katyal, who is the Paul and Patricia Saunders Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center, spoke from his home near Washington, D.C.

He said issues of privacy are often posed against issues of safety and security, “but often you have privacy or liberty on both sides of the equation, and I think coronavirus is a really good example of that. Because if we don’t restrict our students’ liberties in some way, we just can’t open at all as a college. And that’s a far greater intrusion of liberty and imposition on them.”

Katyal said he’s been impressed with Dartmouth’s response to the pandemic. “I’ve never been prouder to be a Dartmouth alum than now. From start to finish the way that the College has handled coronavirus has been inspiring,” he said.

Helble, Conroy, and Katyal took questions from viewers in a conversation moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson, who spoke from a room adjacent to the studio.

Among other topics discussed on Wednesday’s episode:

  • Plans to continue expanding access to research facilities, which are currently in the fourth week of a phased reopening. Helble said that phase two, which will permit more than one person in a lab at a given time, will likely begin in early July.
  • A phased reopening of Dartmouth libraries is currently being planned for mid-July.

“Let me say to the full community, not only do I appreciate your patience as we work through these difficult questions, but your continuing dedication to the learning of our students and the research and scholarship that’s conducted here on this campus to support the advancement of knowledge in society is truly inspiring,” Helble said.

Community Conversations is produced by Dartmouth’s Media Production Group and the Office of Communications. The show airs Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m., and is scheduled to continue through July. The next episode is set for July 8. Schedules and past episodes are available on the Community Conversations site, which includes call-in numbers for those who want to listen to the show without video. Find out how to watch or listen to the live broadcast.

For the most recent information on Dartmouth’s response to the pandemic visit the COVID-19 website.

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at

Hannah Silverstein