Welcome everyone to our first Community Conversations during the fall term. I’m David Kotz, the interim provost. As always, I’m joined by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications, from the Star Instructional Studio in Berry Library, where we are recording today’s conversation, on the morning of Sept. 15.
Justin and I will be joined today by Mark Reed, the director of the Dartmouth College Health Service, Rick Mills, the executive vice president for finance and administration, and Elizabeth Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Paul M. Dauten Jr. Professor of Biological Sciences.
Let me open today’s Community Conversations with a special welcome to the class of ’25, and to all other students, faculty, and staff new to the College. We are so happy to have you join us here on this beautiful campus. And to the many others for whom this month is your first opportunity to be back on campus in more than a year, reconnecting with friends and colleagues, welcome back.
It is wonderful to once again see students walking across the Green, professors in the classroom, staff in their offices, and graduate and professional school students busy with their work. Although the energy on campus is palpable every September, this year feels particularly special; as a community we have weathered so many challenges over the past two years. The pandemic has fundamentally altered every aspect of daily life, challenging each of us in different ways.
As we return to in-person instruction and in-person activity across campus, I feel tremendous optimism and enthusiasm from the entire community. This enthusiasm was on full display this past Monday as dining services hosted thousands of students, faculty, and staff for a community picnic on the Green. A huge thanks to the many staff and volunteers who made that event possible; it was truly a wonderful opportunity to bring everyone together on a beautiful day, and I look forward to many more opportunities for us to come together as one community throughout the academic year.
This fall also saw the return of one of my favorite traditions at Dartmouth, first-year trips. A big shout out to trips Director Kellen Appleton ’20, who joined us on the previous Community Conversations, and to all the students who led trips or served on crews. Not only were you able to put together a fun and safe first-year trip experience this year, but you did so under extraordinary circumstances.
When we learned, just two days before the trippies arrived, that we had to anticipate significant delays in the results of arrival testing, Kellen and her team of student leaders decided to refactor the trips program to keep it closer to campus, rewriting nearly every trip from scratch and rescheduling nearly every activity. I’m incredibly grateful for their creativity, energy, and dedication to the fundamentals of the trips program.
Their work is yet another example of how this community has brought compromise and adaptability to make a less than ideal situation a resounding success. Indeed, it is this ability to roll with the punches that gives me confidence that working together, we can achieve our primary goal for this term of maintaining in-person classes, in-person learning, and in-person activities while keeping this campus and our surrounding community safe and healthy.
President Hanlon captured this shared goal perfectly in his message to campus yesterday morning, to quote, “Our primary objective will be to keep our campus as open as possible and maintain as much of the student experience as we can, while minimizing the risk that anyone, and especially those who cannot be vaccinated, fall seriously ill from COVID.”
I encourage you all to join me in helping to achieve this goal by remaining mindful of those on our campus, in our families, and in our community who are too young to be vaccinated or who are otherwise particularly at risk. Even if you do not feel you are yourself at risk, please wear your mask out of respect for these other community members, and for our common goal.
You may have heard that some other universities have recently needed to institute tighter restrictions, such as ending in-person dining and limiting the size of in-person activities after experiencing significant outbreaks on their campus. Here at Dartmouth, we are in a very delicate moment after the return of 4,500 undergraduate students over the past few weeks. We can avoid the need for those kinds of restrictions, but it will take the cooperation of each and every one of us. So please keep the mask on and abide by our health and safety rules. We can do this.
Finally, as we work towards our goal, there will undoubtedly be challenges and uncertainties. Please also remember that none of you are in this alone. We are a community. We look out for each other. We take care of each other in support of everyone’s physical and mental health. I’m confident that we can keep Dartmouth healthy in every sense, and have a successful fall term.
Now I’d like to move on to several key updates before introducing our guests. First, an update on housing. In the July edition of Community Conversations we shared our plans to accommodate as many students as possible in Dartmouth housing. Well, here we are, fall term has begun, we have an incredible 4,611 undergraduate students enrolled this fall. Of those, only 120 are away on off-campus programs, leaving almost 4,500 undergraduate students in Hanover.
That’s more students that we’ve had at Dartmouth for any fall term in the past six years, and I expect it’s more students at Dartmouth in any term ever. We have 3,571 in Dartmouth beds, and 663 and other local off-campus housing.
It has been an incredibly tight squeeze, and I know it has been a challenging and stressful process for many of you. Still, I’m pleased we’ve managed to get as many of you back to Hanover as possible, despite the unprecedented demand.
We’re working now to ensure sufficient housing for the remainder of this year. A major expansion of graduate student housing will open next fall, and we’re exploring options to expand and renovate undergraduate housing in the next few years.
Next, on dining. Students have been excited to see that all their favorite dining services have resumed operation this fall. Old favorites such as the Courtyard Cafe and the Hop have reopened, and several new locations are planned to open this fall in the old cafe space at Baker-Berry Library, and this winter at two locations on the West End.
It has been a challenge to maintain enough staffing to keep all the dining locations open for their usual hours. It is possible that some hours may be curtailed due to staffing shortages. Please bear with us and check out the dining services website for the latest information on the hours.
And now, an update on COVID. Regarding COVID-19, as of yesterday, we have 20 active cases—12 undergraduate students, five graduate or professional students, and three employees. Over the past seven days we’ve administered 7,500 tests, with only 22 coming back positive. That’s a reasonably low 0.29% positivity rate.
We all know that a virus can spread exponentially, and then widespread prevalence can raise the probability of infection for our more vulnerable community members. So, we follow CDC and New Hampshire guidelines in requiring persons who test positive to isolate for 10 days. We currently have 11 students in Dartmouth isolation housing.
We are watching these numbers carefully. As stated in an email last week, we are prepared for the possibility of a significant outbreak on campus. We evaluated more than a dozen locations where we can safely house and support students who need to isolate. Considering factors like quality of ventilation, access to food service, access to life safety equipment, we set up the Boss Tennis Center in case we needed to house a large number of students in isolation.
But who is we? You may recall that earlier this summer we announced that the COVID taskforce was disbanded and that campus planning and decision-making were reverting to their normal workflow. In August, however, the delta variant arrived, and we started seeing a substantial uptick in case counts here at Dartmouth, in the surrounding communities, and nationwide. Thus, in the past two weeks I’ve worked with Rick Mills to establish a new management structure for COVID policy and implementation.
In this new structure, Rick and I convene a leadership group twice weekly to discuss the current situation, consider input from various working groups, and determine the best course of action. We’ll post this new structure online for you to review at covid.dartmouth.edu.
One of the most important current policies is the requirement to wear face masks in nearly all indoor settings. It is OK to remove your face covering indoors in a limited set of situations, specifically if you’re alone in an office or lab with the door closed, alone with your roommate in a dormitory room, or while actively eating.
That reminds me, eating is not permitted in the classroom at any time. Fun fact—eating has never been allowed in a classroom, because we just don’t have the capacity to properly clean classrooms between classes. We may have ignored this rule before, but now we must not. Please keep your mask on at all times in the classroom. If you have a drink, you may dip your mask briefly to take a sip, but then please pull your mask back up.
Why? Because we want to retain that great Dartmouth experience, in-person classes. If we keep those masks on, especially during this critical time, we’ll avoid unfortunate situations where we may need to ask students to isolate themselves, or ask a professor to isolate, causing the class to switch to remote learning for a few weeks. Keep up the mask, keep the classes in-person.
Dean Elizabeth Smith and I recommended that every class syllabus include a paragraph that makes it clear that everyone is required to follow the face covering policy. Students who forget a mask will be reminded and may be asked to leave the classroom to fetch a mask. We’re trying to make some disposable masks available in your classrooms, but it’s better to remember to bring your mask.
Students who fail to wear a mask may be reported to the deans for disciplinary action. Why? Again, because we want to maintain that in-person learning experience, and the health of all the students and instructors and the extended community. Masking is an important method to help us achieve that goal.
As a reminder, masking is required in all other indoor shared experience spaces, including the library, the gym, common space in residential buildings, and Greek houses. Do your part, wear your mask, respect your fellow students, faculty, and staff.
Let me be completely clear, if we observe too many people failing to wear masks in public spaces like the library or gym, we may be forced to temporarily close those facilities. Why? Out of respect for the staff who operate those facilities, and to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to large numbers of others. Please let us keep them open. Wear your mask, respect the safety of others, and enjoy the opportunity to use these fabulous spaces.
All this being said, it is important to be mindful that there may be some members of our community, faculty, staff, or students who have been granted an explicit medical accommodation for not wearing a mask. Although we ask you to be vigilant in reminding others to mask up when indoors, please be respectful of the privacy for those few in our campus population who cannot.
Now let me clarify the visitor policy. Effective 10 days ago or so, on Sept. 4, visitors may access indoor spaces at Dartmouth, provided they have a Dartmouth faculty, staff, or institutional sponsor. If a visitor is attending an event, they must follow the requirements put in place by that event management. You can review the full visitor guidance at covid.dartmouth.edu.
Regarding vaccination, I’m pleased to say that all students have been vaccinated, are in the process of being vaccinated, or have been granted a religious or medical exemption. The vast majority of employees have been vaccinated as well. Combined, 96% of our campus community has been vaccinated to date. As of yesterday, we’ve approved 90 medical or religious exemptions for employees, and 67 medical or religious exemptions for students.
Although we have a high vaccination rate, the science now shows that it is possible for vaccinated persons to become infected with the delta variant. The vaccine is doing its job, even when infected most are asymptomatic, or have only mild symptoms. It is extremely rare for a vaccinated person to be severely ill or require hospitalization. The science also shows it is possible, albeit unlikely, for such a person to pass along the virus to others, which is why it is so important that we continue to wear masks indoors and monitor the spread of virus through our population. Which brings me to testing. Why is testing so important? Because it allows us to measure the prevalence of the virus on campus and to contain the spread by isolating those who are infected. By containing the spread, we address a key part of our goal: to maintain a low probability of severe disease among those who are unable to be vaccinated, those within the Dartmouth community, or those in our extended family in the Upper Valley. As a reminder, Dartmouth has resumed a weekly testing cycle for all those who are vaccinated and a twice weekly schedule for those who are unvaccinated.
Anyone can be tested more often if they wish. To schedule a testing appointment, please visit covid.dartmouth.edu. We’re also beginning to implement the use of convenient take-home testing kits. We are slowly rolling this out to different groups on campus. When your turn comes, you’ll receive an email from Occupational Medicine. Here’s my kit. It’s a Ziploc baggie with a familiar test tube and the swab to wipe your nose. We anticipate these take-home kits will be available by the end of the month. The email invitation will include instructions for picking up labels, a testing kit, and information about drop-off locations. New locations are being added all the time. Check the website for the latest information. It’s actually quite easy.
Now, in some earlier communications, we noted that we would be re-evaluating some policies next week, the week of Sept. 20, such as the masking policy, testing policy, and whether to reopen the gym for faculty and staff. On Tuesday, the leadership group will review the latest test results from Monday. On Wednesday, Rick Mills and I will confer with student leadership, and on Thursday, the leadership team will aggregate input from the students and from the working groups, allowing us on Friday to announce whether we are able to relax any of the current policies.
Of course, we always keep a close eye in emerging trends and, when necessary, act quickly to tighten things up. We know it can be jarring when we need to add new constraints, especially when imposed quickly and with little warning. But if we learned anything from our experience and the experience of our peers, it is this; quick action with a few constraints now can contain the spread and avoid greater restrictions later. As President Hanlon said, our number one priority is this, quote, “To keep our campus as open as possible and to maintain as much of the student experience as we can while minimizing the risk that anyone, and especially those who cannot be vaccinated, falls seriously ill from COVID.” With that I now turn to Justin to see if we have any questions.
Thanks, Dave. I’m going to jump right in with the first question. And this is one that I am hearing repeatedly from multiple members of our community, faculty, staff, students, parents. And it’s about the metrics that we are using to decide when we might either tighten current restrictions or when we might loosen the restrictions. So, the question really is, as you are thinking about moving forward, what are some of the metrics that you’re looking at that are going to guide that decision making about how and when we might have to either tighten up a little bit or when we can relax a little bit?
Thanks Justin. I do get that question very often. We look at several different metrics, such as the number of positive cases on campus, the positivity rate of recent surveillance testing here on campus, and also in the nearby county. We look at the capacity of our isolation space and the degree to which that might be filling, the rate at which that might be filling. We’re in touch with our local healthcare providers to get a sense of the stress on the local healthcare system, for example, in their ICU. And we are in consultation all the time with various campus services like dining, housing, and so forth to understand their situation and their ability to adapt as conditions change.
So, there’s no one number or one threshold that we can easily use as a trigger to increase or decrease restrictions. And there’s no one restriction that we might increase or decrease. Some that are most obvious, of course, are the masking, but even there, there’s some variation in where we might require masking and or when we might allow it to be unmasked. So, it’s complicated, but the group, the leadership group, meets twice a week to consider and evaluate the situation.
Dave, we know as the academic year started that there was tremendous excitement to be back in the classroom, back in the lab. Students were excited about it. Faculty are excited about it. At the same time, with the surge in cases produced by the delta variants, in addition to that excitement there’s also a little bit of concern. And we have heard that concern from faculty. I mean, we’ve heard that concern from lots of folks, but faculty specifically because many of them, or some of them, return to their homes and have children under 12 and have other individuals who may be vulnerable to catching COVID if it is transmitted in the classroom. So, a question is, what are you doing to try to minimize that risk?
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great question. And I do get that question very often. Well first of all, we have encouraged ... well, required vaccination for all the students and faculty and staff across campus. And we’re now at 96%. That is the first line of defense, and that is a tremendous achievement. Second, we still require indoor masking, in particular in the classroom. And we’ve given faculty tools to use to help enforce that requirement. And third, as I understand the science—and I’ve consulted with a lot of people who study this very closely—in a vaccinated population, with surveillance testing, with masking indoors, the risk to becoming infected in the classroom is extremely low. And further, the risk to translating that infection to the home setting, where someone else might become infected, and where they might become seriously ill, is extraordinarily low. And so, my best understanding of the situation is that the risk is very small and we’re doing everything we can to minimize that risk.
Dave, I’m going to ask one more question and then we can get to our guests. You mentioned in your opening remarks a new COVID leadership and decision-making structure. One question again that I keep hearing is about how students are interacting with the decision makers. So, the question is, how is the COVID leadership group ensuring that student voices are heard and that their interests are represented in the decision making, as it relates to changes in policy or the loosening or the tightening of the restrictions that I asked about in the first question?
Yeah, that’s a great question. Thanks, Justin. In fact, just last week Rick Mills and I had our first meeting with this new cross-campus student leadership group—two student leaders from each of the various student populations. In the undergraduate case that’s the president and vice president of the Student Assembly, and similar roles at Tuck, Thayer, Geisel, and so forth. And that was a very productive and positive and collaborative meeting. And we’ve scheduled weekly meetings for the rest of September, and then we’ll find an appropriate cadence for those meetings going forward. As I mentioned, we’ll be meeting with them next week midweek as we consider whether or how to change the policies for the rest of the month.
- So now I will turn to our guests. I’m pleased to introduce three guests, Mark Reed, director of health services; Rick Mills, executive vice president and my colleague in managing COVID policy on campus; and Elizabeth Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
First question for Mark, speaking as a professor and as a parent, I know that many students have struggled with mental health and that the pandemic has made these struggles even more challenging. I know your team has been working to expand access to counseling and wellness services for many years, and in particular over the past several months. Can you tell us more about these efforts and where we stand now?
We have a number of new initiatives. We’re in the process of hiring three new staff who are in the counseling office, one in is wellness. They’re going to be based in the residence halls where the students live, and I think will be a great addition to the large number of hours of outreach that we already do. Second, we started a partnership with the JED Foundation. So, Dartmouth has committed to have all five of its schools, the undergraduate school, and its four graduate and professional schools work with JED and its signature four-year program. Two other initiatives, so we’re starting a partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They have an interactive screening program, which is an anonymous way for students to interact with the counseling center.
So, this is going to be started at our med school at Geisel, and then it’s going to move to our undergraduate campus, and we’ll be inviting about 200 students at a time. They will anonymously fill out the survey. It will come to the counseling office. We can interact with them anonymously, and it’s been shown nationally to increase the engagement of students on campus. Another new project for the fall, as most students are aware of AlcoholEdu. It’s an alcohol education program that all the incoming students take. It’s run by EVERFI, and we also use them for gender-based violence. We use them for COVID education, and we’re going to use their mental health module this fall. And it primarily focuses on prevention, teaching students skills to manage stressors or challenges that come up. And so those are a few of the things that we’re working on this fall.
Mark, this is great to hear both the short-term efforts to expand access to services and the long-term strategic work, because this is a challenge that will be continuing, of course, for many years. So thank you. Thank you for that hard work. I’d now like to turn to Rick Mills, because I mentioned in the opening that we have about a dozen students currently in isolation in Dartmouth housing. Just to clarify for anyone who doesn’t remember, isolation is for people who have tested positive for COVID. People who are just close contacts do not need to quarantine. They are given instructions about double-masking and extra testing and so forth, but they can continue going to class. So, the challenge is for the students who need to isolate because they’ve tested positive. Where do we stand, Rick, in our use of the various isolation facilities on campus?
Thanks, Dave. It’s something we’re monitoring closely. We have 20 isolation beds available on campus, and that’s a significant change from last fall, which really came about in our effort to do what you described at the beginning, which is bring as many students as we possibly can back to enjoy in-person learning and get back to as normal as possible a Dartmouth experience. So, 16 of those beds are on campus. Four are at the Sunset Motor Inn just a little bit down the road toward Lebanon. Right now, we’ve got 11 of them occupied as you mentioned at the beginning of your presentation. And we have about a hundred beds in the Boss Tennis Center, if we need to activate that. And it’s something that we are monitoring closely, as you know, and we’ll be making decisions about if and when to open Boss, and that’s something that we haven’t needed to cross that threshold yet. I think all of us are sensing that that may come this week, but we will see what the numbers show.
Good. I’m glad we have it, and I certainly hope we never have to use it. Thanks Rick. Let me turn to Elizabeth Smith now, the dean of the Faculty for Arts and Sciences. As many people know, classes started this week, Monday in fact, just a couple days ago. Elizabeth, what are you hearing from faculty and students so far? How are things going?
Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity to participate in today’s conversation. I’ve been holding Thursday morning get-togethers for the faculty to talk about their excitement, their apprehensions about the start of fall term. And as was noted earlier in the conversation, the faculty are incredibly excited about teaching in-person again. This is what they love to do, this is why they came to Dartmouth, so they’re incredibly excited. I noticed there were some classes taking place outside earlier this week, so people were taking advantage of being able to go outside. That’s normal for Dartmouth, actually.
You know, when the weather is good, if you have a small class and you’re not using some high-tech production in your class, you will see classes taking place outside on the Green. And we did see a little bit of that early this week. There’s also a little bit of apprehension. The faculty are wondering, “What’s going to happen if half my class has to isolate, and how will I accommodate students so that they can continue with their academic pursuits?” So, there’s just a lot of discussion about the what-ifs and preparing for the what-ifs. But overall, people are just absolutely thrilled to be back in the classroom.
That’s great. I miss being in the classroom myself. It’s nice to hear. So back to you, Justin, to see if we have more questions for our guests.
Yeah. Thank you, Dave, and in fact we do. I’m going to start with Rick, and I’m actually going to sort of revisit the question that Dave asked you, Rick. It’s really because it’s one of the most popular questions, which is really a concern is about the use of Boss Tennis Center. So, I wonder if you could talk just a little bit more about that facility, and you mentioned that we may have to use it this week. Could you just talk about what the trigger would be for us have to tap that resource, and what it would look like in the Boss Tennis Center should we have to use it? Then I’ll ask you to look into your crystal ball and tell us how long you think that we might have to use it. I realize that’s a really difficult question. Nevertheless, it’s a question that I get often.
Sure. No. All good questions and completely understandable. A little bit like Dave’s description of what triggers or what metrics would cause us to change constraints on masking policy or other things, there’s no one metric that would drive this. We talked about the fact that we have 20 isolation beds available on campus. We have 11 folks in isolation right now. So, I mean, at the most basic level, more than nine positive cases would cause us to need to open the Boss Tennis Center. It’s more nuanced than that, in part because of bathroom arrangements for the existing isolation space and gender and thinking about how we maintain balance and don’t create situations where mixed genders need to share a bathroom.
That work is something that we’re looking at on an ongoing basis. Talking a little bit about what the Boss Tennis Center looks like, it looks like a bunch of indoor tennis courts that have all the nets down and protective flooring, and then we’ve erected 10-foot by 10-foot cloth-curtain cubicles. Each cubicle has a bed, a lamp, a nightstand, a wastebasket, a folding chair, but it’s a 10-foot by 10-foot curtain-cubicle. We’ve upgraded the Wi-Fi. Everybody should be able to Zoom with parents, with classmates, with classes. They should be able to play games, do that sort of thing.
We’ve got some soft seating. We’ve got dining tables set up. There are bathrooms and shower facilities available for the students all on the same level. It’s clearly a temporary location. We’ve made it as comfortable as possible. When folks go in there, they will be supported by meal delivery, trash removal, laundry. All of those services will be made available. They’ll be able to go outside and walk and enjoy the outdoors, masked. There are actually some outdoor seating areas. But it’s not perfect. It is, however, what we put up in order to enable bringing everybody back, and that’s where things stand right now.
Looking ahead, all we really have to go on is looking at the incidents of COVID at peer schools and seeing a sort of repeated dynamic. On arrival, it starts out OK, there’s a bit of a surge in the first couple of weeks, and then it tapers back down. Assuming we either avoid that or we follow that, it says we probably only need the Boss Tennis Center during the first month or so, and then we should be at a steady state and have a better understanding of where we are. We could theoretically take it down and get it back up again operating if we see we need to. We’ll see how that goes. I would expect arrival in winter and spring, depending on where we are with COVID. We may be back at ensuring that we have sufficient capacity by having Boss ready but not necessarily needing to use it.
Thank you, Rick. Elizabeth, if you’re like me, I suspect you’ve been thrilled to walk across campus and to see it come to life over the course of the last couple of days and weeks. It’s miraculous, and it’s been helped by the great weather. The campus just looks energized and alive, and it just brings such joy to walk from my office down on Lebanon Street, up to the Green, across the Green, and to the library. It’s amazing.
And part of that is seeing faculty teaching out outdoors and taking advantage of the great location and the great weather. So, I wonder if you could just comment on that, and also just what you know about how faculty have approached this term, in terms of their approach in the classroom and how they’re thinking about it a little bit differently after last year’s experiment and this year’s sort of cautiously optimistic but guarded beginning.
Yeah. Thanks for that question Justin. We’re offering something like 880 sections for a total of 634 courses in fall term, and they’re all unique. So, every faculty member is thinking about what the content is of their course, and then trying to map that onto all of the what-ifs. So, we have everything from small discussion-type courses. We have courses that are larger, but maybe the faculty divides the students up into group work. We have courses that have, for example, studio components, or laboratory components, or performance components. So, each and every faculty member whose teaching this fall has to think about, “OK. How do I do my in-person teaching?”
Then there’s all the what-ifs. What if a certain number of students have to be in isolation? How can we accommodate them and keep the class rolling? There’s layer to this, which is, it’s not just a, “This is how I teach remote and this is how I teach in-person,” because the faculty in doing their remote teaching discovered a whole host of interesting tools that actually work really well for teaching that they wanted to continue to incorporate even after we return to in-person teaching. So, the faculty are busy trying to figure out, “Which things in my remote teaching worked really, really well?” You know, online assignments, online discussion groups, that can bring in a lot of people.
Or think about, for example, our ability to bring in visitors remotely, so bringing in the world’s expert at something into your classroom. So there still might be reason for having people Zoom in and having these additional meetings. But there are as many different ways of teaching as there are classes being offered fall term. As I’ve always said, my money’s on the faculty. They’re the most creative people that I know, and they are preparing and are prepared for whatever happens over the next couple of months. But going back to Dave’s point, they very much hope that everyone follows the guidelines and that we’re going to be able to continue teaching in-person for the entirety of the term. That is their biggest hope.
Well, and Elizabeth, if I could stay with you for another sort of related question, that is certainly all the faculty that I’ve talked to, I know that that is their hope, and I know that we’re all really hoping that. And I’m aware that about 98% of classes, or something close to that, are in-person this term. But there are a small number for which faculty members have requested accommodations. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the process of requesting accommodations and how they are granted.
Yes. Thanks Justin. Happy to. Dave mentioned just a little bit about this in his remarks, so let me expand on that. There are two basic kind of scenarios that we’re encountering. One is the professor. The professor, the person who is delivering the instruction, has a medical condition that would render them at high risk should a student who is positive transmit that virus to them. So, for the faculty who are at risk, the process is to put in a request to our Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, where they would assess that as a medical accommodation, that the faculty member requires an accommodation in terms of their teaching that would allow them to safely do their job.
The second—and there are not many of those—let me just give you ... I had reported some numbers, 880 sections for a total of 634 classes. There are only right now about 11 courses that are being delivered remotely, for a total of 12 sections; one course has two sections. That’s an incredibly small number of classes. First that 11 to 12. Some fall in the category of the faculty member who’s teaching is at high risk and needs an accommodation. For some of them, the faculty member has a person at home who is at very high risk. I know there was a lot of discussion early on about children under 12 who are not able to be vaccinated. We actually have a significant number of faculty with children under 12. Those are not the requests that we’re seeing actually. Those faculty are teaching in person. The requests that we’re seeing are for individuals at home—they may be children, they may be adults, but they are people who are at very high risk should they contract the virus. And for some of those, the adjustment for those who are referring to that as an adjustment, as opposed to the legal definition of an accommodation, the adjustment might just be for the first month of the term, as you have pointed out. I think Rick just mentioned we see a little wave as students return to campus. And so, we’re going to see what happens. If everything looks good, then those faculty might return to the classroom. But those adjustments, the faculty submit their request to the associate dean.
So, I’m the dean of the faculty. I have four associate deans working with me to support the faculty, and we get together as a group, I and the associate deans, to discuss the request before granting an adjustment. We also look for, is there a way an adjustment can be made that is not fully remote teaching? In other words, is there some adjustment that could be made to the classroom that they’re teaching in, so that they would feel comfortable? So, we look at a bunch of different features before we make the decision that, OK, this adjustment is going to be fully remote, at least until we have a good handle on caseload, though, as fall term commences.
Mark, if I could shift over to you with a question about faculty. Faculty, of course, in addition to being teachers and researchers and scholars, they’re also community members, and they have forged relationships with students that transcend the classroom, and they really care about the students. My question to you is about faculty concern about the mental health of the students and what you’ve seen in terms of faculty getting involved in trying to support students and to promote the mental health of individual students and the student body at large.
Again, one of my favorite things about Dartmouth is the connections that people have here, and really for faculty and staff, that they really care and they’re invested in the development and happiness of their students. I’ve been here a long time, and probably not two weeks goes by that we don’t hear from a faculty member who has noticed and is concerned about a student and walks them over to our offices or consults with us. They see something in a paper, they see some behavior that they’re concerned about, and they’ve already reached out to the students. It’s great. I want to express my gratitude to Elizabeth. She’s been working this summer with Heather Earle, who’s the director of counseling, and with the Dartmouth Student Union, which is a student advocacy group, to think about, are there ways that the faculty can do more or learn more?
Elizabeth has worked with each of the department chairs, and we have a signature suicide prevention program on campus that’s sort of a national model. And Elizabeth in her work with department chairs has a commitment that I think at least one faculty member from each department chair is going to get trained in this program over the course of the next few months. And so, I think that’s awesome. The faculty already are very generous with their time and very astute with their follow up, but this is another great development that I appreciate
Rick, I’m going to go back to you for one last question, and then I’m going to throw it back to Dave to see if he has any final questions, or final words. But my question to you dovetails with what I was saying when I was asking questions of Elizabeth, and that’s about the return of students and faculty to campus. I know that we delayed the return of a lot of staff members who have been working remotely and asked them to continue you to do so through Oct. 4. I wonder if you could talk both a little bit about that decision and how you are thinking about how we will approach the return of staff on Oct. 4, or might there have to be another delay, and when can we expect to get the staff back on campus to add to the energy and to the community spirit that we’re already seeing?
Sure. Great question. Well, and let me be clear, we actually have a lot of staff on campus right now, staff in dining, custodial. Many of them actually never left throughout COVID. They have been here supporting the campus, supporting students, and what we’ve really delayed the return of is staff who have been working remotely successfully in non-student facing non-campus oriented activities. And that was done as Dave and I approached bringing the large number of students back that we were aspiring to bring back. It just made sense that if work was being accomplished successfully remotely, we didn’t need to redensify campus until we understood better where we were with regard to spread of virus and incidence of virus.
I think as part of the assessment Dave referenced next week, as we look at whether we are in a position to relax the restraints on folks’ activities based on how we see cases develop and what the context of the hospital and the other things Dave spoke about are... we will be reassessing, do we need to push that return further out? Does it make sense just from the perspective of keeping the campus less dense? Or are we feeling comfortable and at a position that we could start to bring more folks back?
Interestingly, much as Elizabeth describes, as the faculty learned about how to bring extraordinary speakers that might not travel to Hanover but can arrive by Zoom, we’ve learned a lot during COVID around the opportunities for remote work. And I think, increasingly across many areas of Dartmouth, we’re finding opportunities to hire folks who live in different places but end up working at Dartmouth remotely. It’s given us access to a whole new workforce. So, I think as we go through all this, we’re learning a lot, and we’ll probably revisit how we think about workplace and work at Dartmouth and where folks do their work from. But the shorter answer to your question is, next week, as Dave and I look at what we’re doing with the rest of the restraints, we’ll have more announcements about what to expect on that front.
Great. We’ll look forward to next week, when hopefully we’ll know more about a lot of pending decisions. Look forward to that and hearing from you on a future Community Conversations, I’m sure. Dave, I want to go back to you to see if you have any final questions. Back to you.
Yeah. Thanks, Justin. Actually, I’d like to stay with Rick and with questions from the staff. Some staff have been asking, “What if I test positive and have to stay at home for a while?” We only have three and employees in that situation at the moment, but the question then is, how do they get their job done? And, do they have to take vacation time? And so forth. Can you tell us a little bit about what employees who are positive or maybe have to stay home with a sick relative can do?
Sure. We just actually posted a new policy to the website that allows faculty, staff—all of Dartmouth employees—10 days to use when they’re requested by Axiom to stay home, either because of need to isolate or quarantine. Those are what we call “other lost time,” but it gives employees an opportunity not to use sick time or their vacation time. It’s also usable in order to care for a child or a family member at home that unexpectedly needs care as a part of the COVID situation. We like to think that it will give more flexibility to our employees and give them more opportunity to take care of themselves and their family members.
Great. Thanks, Rick. That’s good to hear. Well, I think that’s about it for today. Many thanks to Elizabeth, Mark, and Rick for their time, and thanks to Justin for organizing us and bringing us questions, excellent questions from the community. Thank you to everyone who’s watching. I really appreciate it, and we look forward to seeing you for future community conversations. This fall, we’ve decided to return to biweekly visits with the community, and so, we’ll see you in two weeks.