Message from President Folt about the 2020-2021 Academic Year

I write to you today with the full understanding that we stand astride two of the most challenging situations in the history of our nation: the ongoing tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic and our recent horror over the senseless killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. I am confident in the university’s direction as we work to confront the fallout of these two situations among our students, faculty, and staff. I also acknowledge what might appear to be a sense of bad timing, but we have important information to share that will help you start planning for the fall, and that I believe you will welcome.

I know many of you have been waiting to hear about our plans for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. We all are eager to return to campus life this fall and committed to making this decision with a great deal of care and planning.

Well before the end of this last semester, we gathered hundreds of people from across our university to begin looking at how we could come back safely in the fall. We have spoken with many colleagues – faculty, students, staff, community members, and public health officials to understand issues and challenges faced here on campus and across our city.

We launched Project Restart, under the leadership of Provost Chip Zukoski, and these teams have been working around the clock crafting plans, developing scenarios and contingencies so we can be flexible to adapt to circumstances that are bound to change. Our health and safety procedures will be guided by the LA County Department of Health, and our own internal Health Policy leadership team, and will be focused on safeguarding individuals and the community.

While we still have many details to work out, we are planning for an in-person fall semester for students beginning on August 17, 2020, a week earlier than originally scheduled. All classes, including final exams, will end by Thanksgiving. By ending the semester before Thanksgiving, we are aiming to minimize the spread of the virus, particularly as the flu season commences. To support this schedule, we will not have a fall break in 2020. Please understand that these plans remain contingent on several factors, including the continued spread of COVID-19, and the health orders from state and local authorities. So, things could change, but we are excited to move forward and to have you back.

Here are some of the key decisions we’ve made so far. We will have many more specific details in the coming days and weeks, and will begin posting them on a new Trojans Return website that we will launch soon:

  • Undergraduate Instruction: Almost every in-person class will also be offered online to provide more flexibility to our students and faculty. 
    • We expect to offer a number of different types of courses. Some will have a mixture of online and in person modalities (e.g., online large lectures, in-person discussions and labs, etc.); some may be fully in person (e.g., dance); and others could be fully online.
    • Students who may not be able to attend in-person classes will be given the online support needed to continue their coursework online and remotely. There will be exceptions and we will be providing much more detail in the coming days.
    • Resources have been deployed in schools and in the Center for Excellence in Teaching to enable faculty to reimagine and implement their courses in the physically distanced environment and online (e.g.,adding additional instructional designers and upgrading approximately 250 general use classrooms to enable simultaneous lecture capture and teaching via Zoom).
  • Welcome Experience: Our Welcome Experience programs and activities will begin the week of August 10 and will be conducted online for all of our new incoming students and if possible, with some smaller, in-person events.
    • Information about move-in dates housing and registration will follow soon.
  • Orientation and scheduling for graduate and professional school programs: Graduate and professional programs are developing calendars to meet their specific needs; these may differ from central university-wide orientations and programming.
    • Students will be notified of schedules and orientation for their programs by their individual schools.
    • We already have restarted most clinical rotations for our professional students.
  • Research: Our research operations will continue to expand over the next two weeks as we finalize the safeguards necessary to ensure research is carried out in compliance with best practices. Individual locations may have different schedules and restrictions that they will communicate.
  • Physical facilities: Classrooms, offices, and other campus spaces are being reconfigured to accommodate physical distancing requirements. How we learn, work, and interact will be altered, but in ways that allow us to continue our jobs and our studies.
    • Residence halls and on-campus dining facilities will be modified to reduce density and contact. Take out dining options will be expanded, and the number of students to a room will be reduced.
    • Traffic flow and pedestrian walkways will be marked to limit congestion.
    • Cleaning and sanitation of buildings, classes, and public spaces will be done frequently and according to strict protocols and health and safety guidelines.
  • Testing and contact tracing: Robust testing and contact tracing protocols are currently being followed on campus. These will be expanded and enhanced during the fall semester to include returning staff, faculty, and students. Comprehensive information about frequency of testing and other related health issues will follow soon. 
  • Mandatory actions: We will need to put in place a number of actions, as recommended by our health experts and medical authorities in our county and state, to protect the health and wellness of everyone in our community. While these may be modified before you actually return to campus, currently –
    • The wearing of face coverings is a mandatory requirement for anyone on campus and in the classroom. 
    • Physical distancing is also mandatory.
    • Failure to follow these requirements, and any others that are determined necessary to protect the health, safety, and well-being of our entire community, will lead to disciplinary actions.
    • For our plan to succeed, our entire community must be part of the solution – Trojans caring for Trojans and for our neighbors.
    • Each member of our community will be asked to agree in writing to follow campus and public health policies and guidelines, if they wish to return to campus activities.
    • We are also developing required educational training sessions for our faculty, students, and staff to take at home before returning to campus.
    • I am confident that with the participation of you all, we will be able to return safely.
  • Other events and venues: We do not yet know the rules and requirements necessary to operate in-person events like concerts, performances, large lectures, and other activities. These decisions will conform to university and legislative policy and health guidelines.
  • USC Athletics: The NCAA and the Pac-12 are developing protocols and policies around athletic practices and competitions for each sport. Much is still being developed.
    • As in all activities, the health and safety of our students and staff will always be our top priority.
    • USC Athletics will follow both the guidance of government officials, Pac-12 and NCAA rules, and the university on when and how athletes can return to campus.
    • The Pac-12 Conference has allowed for voluntary in-person athletic workouts for all sports to commence on June 15; however, each school will determine how this works on their own campus. No decisions have been made here at USC yet.
  • Is there a Plan B, if learning is disrupted with a surge of the pandemic? 
    • Yes, we also are working on plans if we face a resurgence, and will provide more information in the coming weeks. By offering most courses both online and in person, if safer-at-home orders were to be put in place for short or even longer periods, it would be much easier for us to transition, now that we have gone through so much of this planning already.
  • People at high risk: We are keenly aware that we must find individual solutions for the health and safety concerns of faculty, students, and staff who may be at higher risk of illness. More information on these plans will follow.
  • Flexibility: We will constantly reevaluate our plans and adjust if we find the need to restrict activities or change our procedures. We will do our best to keep you informed as soon as we become aware of such needs, and appreciate your understanding and flexibility as we continue to move into uncharted waters.

Even in this difficult situation, we are committed to building educational experiences that are engaging and of exceptional quality. A successful and safe academic year will only be possible if each of us looks out for the health of our fellow Trojans and community neighbors and partners. We need to make a personal commitment to abide by the safety precautions that have been put in place on campus, understanding that they extend to your life off campus as well. You are part of a community that has a responsibility to each other and to our neighbors.

I am grateful for your continued patience and understanding as we work to reopen USC. It is safe to say that the next time we assemble in person there is a chance we will be vastly different human beings than we were at our last interaction. We will be far more thoughtful and appreciative, but let us not forget to confront our challenges with the fighting spirit of a Trojan.

In gratitude and anticipation,
Carol L. Folt