At community forum, AU leadership talks fall reopening

Plans include commencement, contact tracing and more in-person summer classes

At community forum, AU leadership talks fall reopening

The Mary Graydon Center, pictured in 2016. 

President Sylvia Burwell and American University leadership hosted a community forum on Feb. 25 where they discussed the University’s plans for the remainder of the spring and upcoming fall 2021 semesters, including contact tracing, a possible face-to-face component for spring commencement and some in-person summer classes. 

The forum is the first in a series of discussions on the return to campus for fall 2021.

In an update in late February, the University announced that it planned to have in-person instruction and residential experiences for the fall semester. The email included information on the AU budget for the 2021-22 academic year and the University’s approach moving forward. The University said that it’s on track to return to on-campus learning. 

Burwell, in explaining the University’s plan for fall operations, said that administrators are taking into account several factors as they develop the plan for the fall. She said learning has played an important role in the planning process. 

“The issue of health and safety of the community, the core mission of our learning and scholarship and how we are making sure that we fit into the broader community here in D.C., and even more broadly in terms of fighting the pandemic, will guide what we’re doing,” Burwell said. 

Seth Grossman, the vice president of people and external relations, said that the University is listening to input from the campus community in developing plans for the fall. He said administrators are reflecting on the past year and considering experiences from other institutions. 

Grossman, who also serves as Burwell’s chief of staff and counselor, didn’t clarify which, however.

In terms of managing testing, vaccinations and other health protocols, the University’s approach is three-fold, Burwell said: prevention, detection and response. 

On Feb. 24, the University announced a collaboration with local universities to run a mobile testing unit in preparation for the fall semester, decreasing test turnaround times to about 24 hours.

Fanta Aw, the vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence, said that along with surveillance testing, the University is preparing buildings and creating guidance on hygiene and cleaning. Aw said that for detection, the University has set requirements. 

“The fact that we’re able to really ramp up capacity for surveillance testing, and with the detection piece, the other key thing that is also related to prevention, is that we have instituted requirements and we will continue to monitor those requirements and look at compliance around those requirements,” Aw said. 

Additionally, leadership touched on plans for summer courses, University travel and, although it has not been finalized, plans for the spring commencement ceremony. This summer most courses are virtual, with some courses, specifically in the arts and sciences, in-person. 

Acting Provost Peter Starr announced that the University is working to provide more summer course offerings. This is to help students graduate on time and allow students to study abroad and complete internships during the academic year. The University is offering $1.27 million of new financial aid this summer, increasing the aid typically offered during the summer. 

Burwell said that the spring commencement ceremony will be a virtual event, however, leadership is looking to have an in-person component for students. 

Burwell said that plans have yet to be finalized for the fall semester, but that AU plans to host more forums in the coming weeks with additional information on the return to campus.

ohiggins@theeagleonline.com

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