Counting on the success of a series of measures aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19 on campus, Bates College said most of its 1,800 students will return this fall.

“We will invite students to come to campus in person to begin or continue their Bates education, so that we can do our best to support their forward momentum,” President Clayton Spencer said in a letter Tuesday to the Bates community. “Based on exhaustive consultation and planning, we are confident that we can make it safe to do so, assuming that we have broad commitment across the campus community.”

Bates College President Clayton Spencer told alumni in an online talk recently that the Lewiston college plans to reopen in the fall. Videoconferencing screenshot

The semester will begin Sept. 2, with students remaining in Lewiston until Thanksgiving. They’ll finish courses and finals remotely in December.

Coming back at a time when there’s a lot more coronavirus around than when they left, students are going to find life at Bates quite different than anything students have experienced before at the small, elite college.

“These are very challenging times, but they also provide an opportunity for openness and creativity as standard ways of doing things fall by the wayside,” Spencer said.

Aside from a smattering of students who had nowhere to go, Bates has been shut empty since mid-March when it closed down its campus in reaction to the fast-spreading pandemic.

It switched to remote learning to finish out the academic year, including an online-only commencement and cancellation of its short-term classes in May.

Remote learning, rarely a necessity at Bates until this year, will remain an important part of the college’s rigorous academic program.

Some classes will be available only online, while others will mix remote learning with regular classrooms arranged to ensure everyone remains at least 6 feet apart from one another.

Students won’t be able to access all dorms freely, only the one they live in, and won’t be permitted to leave the state of Maine until they depart at Thanksgiving. There doesn’t appear to be any restriction on leaving campus, however.

Spencer told students that “life at Bates this fall will be a very different experience from prior years. We will be teaching, learning, living, and working in new ways, and we are eager to have our students be part of reimagining life on campus.”

Among the changes is a wholesale revision to the way Bates operates its dining hall, called Commons. Meals will be served this fall during four time periods so students are spread out more, with the Gray Athletic Building and Commons both employed to help ensure social distancing.

Students will be tested for COVID-19 on arrival and then again later.  They will be required to wear face coverings and engage in social distancing whenever they’re in public.

To date, two employees of the college have tested positive for COVID-19. Both recovered.

There are no known cases involving a student, but one recent graduate made national news battling the disease. He recovered after a long, difficult medical odyssey.

The college recognizes that many of its international students won’t be able to return because many embassies are closed, making visa processing difficult, and federal rules are up in the air. They make up about 8% of the student body.

Bates already announced that it was switching from its traditional four courses per semester system to one that will have students take two classes at a time in what amounts to a four-semester academic year.

It said the change would make it easier if the college has to send students home again unexpectedly midway through the term.

Most of Bates’ peers in the New England Small College Athletic Conference have taken a similar approach to the upcoming semester, including Williams College in Massachusetts and Middlebury College in Vermont.

One exception, though, is the college just down the road.

Bowdoin College opted not to bring most students back to campus. Only first-year students and some seniors will be in Brunswick for the fall semester.

Like Bates, Colby College in Waterville also plans to return students to campus in the fall.

Spencer left the door open for Bates to reverse course on its plans if the pandemic takes an unexpected turn.

“However thorough and carefully laid our plans are, we must be prepared to adapt our policies and practices, or even to change course, if and as the public health situation requires,” she said. “We are keeping a close eye on developments with the pandemic in the state of Maine, nationally, and globally.

 

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