Webb’s Plans for the Fall

The start of the Fall semester at Webb is rapidly approaching. After extensive deliberations and planning, I am pleased to announce that on-campus classes will begin Monday, August 24th. Students involved in leadership week will be welcome to campus on Tuesday, August 18th, Orientation Leaders on Wednesday, August 19th, and freshmen on Thursday, August 20th. All other students will be welcome to campus on Sunday, August 23rd. These arrival dates are contingent upon the ever-evolving guidance promulgated by public health agencies and the State of New York. Although the COVID-19 infection rate in NY State has been dramatically reduced over the last month, there remains uncertainty going forward. We will keep you updated as the situation evolves.

The overwhelming majority of students, faculty, and staff have expressed a desire to return to campus in the fall. Webb’s approach to education – which incorporates experiential learning through team projects, laboratory coursework, design projects, and thesis study — is best accomplished in the collaborative environment afforded by the Webb campus. Therefore, as we have done for the past 130 years, we are requiring that all students be resident on campus. Any students with enhanced vulnerability to COVID-19 can apply for on-campus accommodations consistent with their special circumstances. Alternatively, these students may apply for a gap year.  Should higher risk students apply for a gap year, we will extend our full-tuition scholarship to the fifth year.

We are excited about this opportunity to bring our Webb students, faculty, and staff back together again, and to welcome the class of 2024 to the Webb campus. The health and safety of our students and employees will be our highest priority during these times. This will take a cooperative effort of all concerned.  Each member of the Webb community – students, faculty, and staff – will be expected to sign a Responsible Care Commitment agreement of understanding, acknowledging the role that each of us plays in maintaining a healthy environment during these challenging times.

The process of developing a plan for campus operations, informed by NY State and CDC policies and guidance, is well underway. Our intention is to disseminate the draft plan to the Webb community soon. We will host informational seminars to describe the plan and provide you with the opportunity to ask questions and provide input to the plan. The plan will be subject to change as more knowledge about the spread, testing, and treatment of COVID-19 becomes available to us. Some of the key provisions of the plan are described below.

Fostering a Healthy and Safe Environment

A multi-faceted plan to mitigate the risk of infection on campus will be implemented, including daily symptom screening, social distancing, wearing of face coverings, frequent washing of hands, minimizing off-campus travel, restrictions on visitors, avoidance of large gatherings, and mandatory public health education. Public spaces throughout campus will be subject to frequent cleaning. To mitigate the risk of infections spreading on campus, provisions will be made for testing, contact tracing, and quarantining of students should the need arise.

Before arriving on campus, all students are expected to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. Students living in or having recently visited COVID-19 hot-spots will be required to take a coronavirus test within three days of traveling to campus.

Each student will be provided with a packet of washable masks and a packet of disposable masks upon arriving at Webb, although all students and staff are encouraged to bring their own masks as well.

Our Academic Year

As usual, the fall semester will run into December. We are assessing different options regarding the Thanksgiving break. These include sending all students home prior to Thanksgiving and allowing students to take finals at home or shortening the Thanksgiving break to Thursday and Friday and encouraging students to stay on campus. In the latter case, the semester will end a few days earlier than currently scheduled.

Our preference is to maintain winter internships during the months of January and February. However, if we are unable to secure internships or have concerns about student safety during these winter months, the internship program will be postponed until the summer of 2021. In that case, the spring semester will likely begin a month earlier, at the beginning of February, allowing more time for the summer internships.

Our Academic Program

Classes will be held in the Couch Academic Center work studios, which have adequate room to allow for social distancing (at least six feet between students in all directions). Remote learning will be available for situations where students must remain in their dorm rooms due to illness or other concerns. Most lectures will be provided in-person by the professor, although professors with high-risk vulnerabilities will be encouraged to teach remotely.

Student Life

The conversion of the Stevenson Taylor Hall (STH) classrooms-to-dormitory project is behind schedule as NY State halted construction projects during the height of the pandemic. If the project is not completed by August 24th, students will be housed in our current dormitory spaces: STH, Motley Hall, and the Robinson Tank Building. Once the conversion is complete, students in the Robinson Tank Building will be transferred to the new dormitories in STH so that the rooms in Robinson are available for quarantine use. Until that time, the Luckenbach Graduate Center will be outfitted to serve as our quarantine facility.

Students and staff will be required to wear face coverings while in public spaces within buildings and elsewhere where social distancing cannot be assured. Face coverings are not required in dorm rooms when solely occupied by roommates, as NY State guidance treats roommates as a “family unit”.  Face coverings will initially be required within the work studios but after the first two weeks on campus, it is expected that this requirement will be relaxed once a student is sitting at his or her socially-distanced desk.

All meals will be served by culinary staff in lieu of self-serve, buffet-style service. Seating will be arranged with a minimum of six feet spacing. Outdoor dining with proper social distancing will be encouraged.

All intercollegiate sports have been canceled for the fall semester.  Non-contact intramural sports and other on-campus extra-curricular activities that allow for social distancing will be encouraged. We will be procuring additional on-campus workout equipment as the YMCA will not be available for student use during the fall semester.

We are in this together!

This year will be different. That is for sure. For the Webb community to flourish, each one of us will need to make some personal sacrifices. We should be prepared to be flexible and adaptive, as the world changes around us.

We have much to be proud of.  The seventeen students and five staff members that remained on campus with me during the spring semester demonstrated a commitment and resolve that was quite special. Those who studied at home faced an even greater challenge – to focus on Webb’s challenging curriculum while being away from fellow students and confronted with various distractions.  I am so pleased that in the spring semester, every Webb student passed every course.  Congratulations!

Please join with me in making this semester a healthy and enjoyable one. Should you have questions or suggestions regarding our reopening plan, please do not hesitate to contact me.

President Keith Michel