University Releases Plans to Return to Full In-Person Instruction for the Fall 2021 Semester

Colgate recently announced plans for a full reopening of campus for the Fall 2021 semester. In an email sent to the student body on March 31, President Brian Casey stated that classes for the Fall 2021 semester are set to begin on Aug. 26 with no modifications to arrival dates, breaks recesses or campus departures, per recommendations from the University’s Task Force for Reopening the Colgate Campus (Task Force).

In addition to reverting back to a pre-pandemic academic calendar, the Memo: Task Force on the Reopening of the Colgate Campus, Summer/Fall 2021 includes other changes to current campus operations. According to the report, students will not be required to quarantine upon arrival to campus, but the University will continue surveillance testing for unvaccinated individuals as well as continue to adhere to contact tracing guidelines per the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Madison County. Other specifics of the Fall semester are yet to be announced, pending changes to the national situation and to public health guidance.

Head of the Task Force and Assistant Professor of Biology Geoff Holm explained that the University will continue to pay close attention to data provided by the Health Analytics Team (HAT) as well as by the CDC and New York State guidelines as the Fall semester approaches.

“We take a lot of different things into account, including first and foremost public health and safety as well as opportunities for our students to engage in the type of education that they want to when they come to a place like Colgate,” Holm said. “We have always said that we need to be flexible and anticipatory of new data that suggests that we need to change our plans.”

While the University does not plan on requiring all students to receive the COVID-19 vaccination before the 2021 academic year, the report states that students would ideally receive a vaccine during the 2021 spring semester or over the summer. When making this decision, the Task Force took into account U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval status which is currently only for emergency use as well as students who cannot be vaccinated due to health or religious reasons, according to Holm. Whether colleges and universities will require students to get the vaccine has been a prominent topic of recent national debate in higher education, according to NBC News

“It is difficult to make a requirement of something that has only been approved for emergency use versus something that has undergone all of FDA approval,” Holm said. “So we don’t feel comfortable at this time requiring something that has only been approved for emergency.”

Students who plan on returning to campus without being vaccinated must comply with continued COVID-19 testing throughout the duration of the Fall semester and will potentially have to adhere to travel restrictions upon arrival, according to the report.

Junior Virginia (Gege) Pflager expressed she felt excited about the guidelines included in Casey’s email.

“It was such a relief to know that Colgate will be doing the best they can to make things as close to normal [as] possible,” Pflager said.

Sophomore Andrew Ralston shared Pflager’s excitement about returning to fully in-person residential instruction, adding that he believes online classes do not give students the full Colgate educational experience. Ralston also expressed support for returning to an in-person semester without restrictions, given the availability of the vaccines.

“Considering that all students and faculty who want the vaccine should be able to receive it by the start of next semester I see no reason why there should be any restrictions or a ‘new normal,’” Ralston said. 

According to current CDC guidelines, vaccinated individuals can socialize indoors without masks among other vaccinated individuals, but should continue to avoid larger gatherings and continue to wear a mask and social distance when around unvaccinated individuals.

Both Pflager and Ralston echoed Holm’s sentiment on vaccination requirements, explaining that while they hope as many students receive the vaccine as possible, they agree that it would not be appropriate to require students to receive the vaccine in order to return to campus.