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Opening Plan for Fall 2020

Updated July 2, 2020 

To the Members of the Western New England University Community:

I am writing to share with you a more detailed plan for our reopening this fall. In my communication to you of May 8, 2020, I indicated that our plan would include offering as many on-ground classes as possible to residential and commuting students. The highly personal interactions synonymous with Western New England University have always been a hallmark of the unique experience we offer our students.

Please read these details carefully so that you will better understand our goals and objectives as we work together to launch a successful new academic year at Western New England University.

While the details in this communication will not answer every question you may have, it is intended to cover the main elements of our plan as we continue to monitor updates to state and federal regulations and changes in our understanding of COVID-19.

Challenges and Values

This pandemic has been challenging to our students and families, as well as to our faculty and staff, emotionally, physically, and financially. It was difficult for our students and all of us to end on-campus learning so abruptly last spring. We are grateful to our dedicated faculty and staff for their hard work in supporting our current and incoming students during this time.

Our commitment to our students and values as a community will always inform our plans and any changes we may need to make between now and the fall. We will need to own these values and our plan together.

We value the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff above all else, and we value providing an education that is true to our mission, one that has an unwavering focus on each student’s academic and personal development, inside and outside the classroom.

The Golden Bear Way—Taking Care of One Another

The most profound gift given to us as human beings is our ability to show care and concern for one another.

That is why, when you arrive on campus this fall, you will be required to wear a mask or face shield, practice social distancing, and maintain a high standard of personal hygiene in the form of washing your hands and reducing contact that can spread the virus. Science has provided evidence that these actions will offer protection and reduce the transmission of COVID-19. More importantly, these actions give each of us an opportunity to protect each other—our fellow members of the Golden Bear Community.

We have faced many challenges to date. If we are clear on our values and want to be together throughout the fall semester, we must embrace the fact that now is the time to take action that will benefit others. This is our unique opportunity to come together as a community. This is what we have always referred to as the Golden Bear Way.

Health and Safety Protocols

Below is an overview of the elements of our plan that are aimed at protecting the health and safety of our faculty, students, and staff:

  • Western New England is fortunate to have one of the finest Health Services Departments in the country. Our staff are trained and are ready to care of our students.
  • All faculty, staff, and students will be provided with re-usable cloth masks. Community members are expected to wear masks, both inside and outside, in order to reduce the risk of transmission. The exception will be when students are inside their room in the residence halls. The University has purchased a large number of face shields with droplet guards on the bottom and will provide them to faculty, staff, and students for use when cloth masks are prohibitive.
  • All classes, activities, and interactions will be arranged to abide by social distancing guidelines—which is to maintain a distance of at least six feet.
  • Plexiglass barriers are being installed throughout campus, and fitted in classrooms, in order to further reduce the transmission of the virus. This includes in spaces where community members will need to make transactions.
  • Most buildings will be made one-directional and equipped with one-directional signage to minimize hallway contact.
  • Cleaning protocols will be expanded and buildings will be cleaned more frequently. All faculty, staff, and students are expected to practice strong personal hygiene which includes regular, thorough hand-washing and cleaning of surfaces prior to use with University cleaning supplies. Hand sanitizing stations will be installed throughout campus. We will work together to keep campus clean and reduce the potential for transmission.
  • We strongly advise students to minimize off-campus travel both daily and during weekends to reduce the potential for transmission.
  • COVID-19 testing procedures and frequencies for large groups are still under broad discussion by The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and health professionals. The University is carefully evaluating these emerging recommendations each day and will be ready to decide to implement widespread testing should it be deemed to be in the best interest of our students. Currently, testing for COVID-19 is available in Health Services and will be performed when a patient presents with symptoms. Health Services will also be equipped with antibody tests. Community members are free to visit Health Services to discuss the appropriateness of either test to their particular circumstance.
  • Residential space has been designated for use by students who test positive for COVID-19 in order to provide safe private or semiprivate space to promote return to wellness and to decrease the spread. This space will be available for resident students. Students in this space will be assessed daily as needed by our healthcare Students in this space will be delivered three meals per day and will be well taken care of both mentally and physically.
  • Health Services will be available by phone to students and employees when the office is physically closed (evening, weekends, and holidays).
  • The University, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Health, will participate in contact tracing in order to minimize the spread of the virus when someone does test positive.
  • All air circulation units on campus will be evaluated and adjusted as needed.
  • The University’s water filtration system will be evaluated and adjusted as needed to maximize safety.
  • The Office of Counseling Services will be fully ready to support our students emotionally and to promote self-care. 

Academic Calendar 

The University’s 2020-2021 undergraduate academic calendar will proceed as originally scheduled. There are no scheduled changes or adjustments planned to the calendar at this time. The first day of undergraduate classes will be on Monday, August 31, 2020. All scheduled breaks will proceed as planned and the last day of undergraduate classes for the fall semester will be on Friday, December 11, 2020.

The University’s 2020-2021 graduate and professional academic calendars will also proceed as originally scheduled.

We do not have concrete data at this time that has convinced us that cancelling scheduled breaks or ending the semester early will reduce the risk of transmission. Should data be made available that shows that these adjustments would benefit the health and safety of our community we will be ready and able to make needed changes to the academic calendars. We believe that our extensive health and safety protocols are the greatest way in which we can reduce transmission.

Classroom Experience—On-Ground, Online, Hybrid

Our goals are:

  • To deliver a highly-personal Western New England University educational experience. Whether on-ground, hybrid or online, all coursework will fully meet accreditation standards and allow students to progress towards their degree.
  • To maximize the number of courses that will be held fully on-ground, while following our health and safety protocols.
  • To offer a consistent, high-quality and interactive online experience for those classes that will be offered in a hybrid or online format. To that end, faculty will be offered opportunities to participate in training this summer to hone their skills in various ways to maximize the quality of online instruction. The Office of Information Technology has a plan to significantly enhance classroom technology to support online learning.
  • To be fully prepared to move all courses online in the case that it is either required that we do so or if the University determines it is in the best interest of the safety of our students, faculty, and staff to do so. Every member of our community will be given access to a free Zoom account to ensure a reliable and consistent delivery to Kodiak, the University’s learning platform.

On-Ground Courses

Western New England University has the advantage of having both the space and small classes so that the vast majority of our undergraduate, graduate, and professional classes will be offered fully on-campus this fall!

For remote content, our course instructional methods include “Online” and “Hybrid.” Faculty classify their courses as such and these are searchable in the Self-Service Catalogue.

Online Courses

A small number of our classes will be delivered online, either synchronously or asynchronously, via Zoom and/or Kodiak.

Some Online Courses will be synchronous, meaning students will log in to Zoom for a live class experience at a designated time. Online, synchronous courses are identified in Self-Service as online and also by listing scheduled meetings days and times.

Online courses are typically asynchronous, meaning that instructors provide materials, lectures, tests and assignments that can be accessed at any time; students are given timeframes and guidelines of when they need to connect to faculty. These pre-recorded sessions and lectures can be accessed through Kodiak before and/or after each class meeting, ensuring the high quality of instruction. Online, asynchronous courses are identified in the Self-Service course listing and will not show any scheduled meetings days or times.

Hybrid Courses

A small number of our classes will be delivered in a hybrid classroom.

Hybrid courses by definition meet both on campus and online. Due to space restrictions, this is where half the class members will attend designated course meeting on-ground while the other class members view the course online. On alternating class meetings, this experience is flipped so that all students have an equal chance to participate in on-ground coursework.

Meeting times and locations (on campus and any that meet at designated times online) are specified in the Self-Service course listing and details about which students will attend which classes will be outlined by the instructor in the Kodiak classroom.

The University is doing extensive work to ensure social distancing will be followed in all classrooms. In general, this means that about half the number of students a room usually holds will be the new social distancing capacity. This has resulted in many changes to classroom locations, and to our utilizing every building on campus to maximize on-campus teaching. Very few changes to class times have been made. Each course is coded in Self-Service to show whether it is being offered on-ground, online or hybrid.

Returning students are strongly encouraged to log in to Self-Service throughout the summer to observe any classroom changes and/or browse the format by which their classes will be offered. This information can be found in the “Course Plan” (under Location) by selecting “Meeting Information” in the Calendar view.

Continuing students who have already been registered can choose to make changes to their schedule throughout the summer in Self-Service.

Undergraduate Registration: New First-year and Transfer Students

New first year and transfer students will begin online registration and advisement appointments with a member of the Vanech Family University Advising Center beginning the week of July 20. New students will be contacted to make an appointment during the week of July 13.

New students will be able to make schedule changes beginning the week of August 10.

General questions can be directed to the Vanech Family University Advising Center at 413-782-1474.

Students who may test positive for COVID-19 during the semester will work with faculty, support staff, and members of Student Accessibility Services, in the same way that we adjust for sick or injured students, to ensure a course can be completed.

The University will not be able to offer an entirely online experience to students who choose not to return to campus, either related or unrelated to COVID-19.

Graduate Registration: New Master’s, Ph.D., Pharmacy, Occupational Therapy, and Law Students 

New students in these programs will be contacted directly by their academic unit to register for courses prior to the start of classes. Students should feel free to reach out to their academic department if they have questions.

Cocurricular Activities and Student Support

While our cocurricular events will look different this fall as they will follow health and safety protocols, there will be robust schedule of events consistent with a Western New England University experience—one where community members value fun, service to others, and personal growth. Our Division of Student Affairs will ensure that undergraduate student clubs and organizations, community service activities, fun campus traditions, and our various mentorship support programs are in place. These programs will take place from the time we open in the fall and will continue even if we are forced to deliver our courses online.

Our robust support services will be open and fully ready to provide needed services to our students. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Academic Success Center
  • Champs Lifeskills Program
  • Counseling Services
  • Kevin S. and Sandra E. Delbridge Career Center
  • Math and Writing Center
  • Peer Advising Program
  • Student Accessibility Services
  • Success FIRST Program
  • United and Mutually Equal Mentorship Program
  • Vanech Family University Advising Center

Similarly, graduate and professional cocurricular and support programs will be active and available to students. 

While the locations and meeting hours of some services may need to change to accommodate the use of space for on-campus courses, the University is committed to providing a strong co-curricular experience and a robust set of support services consistent with our core values and the investment students make through the payment of tuition and fees.

Residential Experience

Our residence halls will be open, offering both single and double rooming options. There will not be any triple rooms assigned this fall. Students are asked to observe all health and safety protocols when in the common areas of the residence halls. Roommates within a room will be treated like a family unit, and are not required to wear masks when in their room with the door closed. Frequent handwashing and other personal hygiene efforts will be strongly encouraged at all times.

Graduate housing will also be open and available.

Move-In and New Drop-Off Days

To enable more social distancing and decrease chances of spreading the Coronavirus on Move-In Day in August, Western New England University is introducing early Drop-off Days before actual Move-in Days. Move-In day is the day in which students typically move in to the residence halls in the few days prior to the start of classes. Drop-off days are a new option students will have to come to campus on an assigned date in August to drop off their belongings.

Students are strongly encouraged to schedule an appointment to come to campus during their building’s Drop-Off Days before their assigned Move-In Day, if they can, to quickly drop-off their belongings in their residence hall room or apartment. If distance from campus or scheduling makes it impractical to drop belongings off early, students will move everything in on their assigned Move-In Day.

Early drop-off will make Move-In Day safer and less stressful for everyone.  On their scheduled Drop-Off Day, first-year students will also have the opportunity to get their WNE ID photo taken, purchase books, apply for parking permits, fill out hiring paperwork if they plan to have a job on campus, and complete other important Orientation tasks before school starts.

Please view the Office of Residence Life website for more information about signing up for a Drop-Off Day and to learn about Move-In Day logistics.

For first-year Law, Pharmacy, and Occupational Therapy students required to attend orientation on August 24, move-in will be Friday, August 21 from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.  Other returning graduate students in Law, Pharmacy, and OTD will move in August 29 & 30, 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., for classes beginning on August 31. No appointment is necessary for graduate student move-in, however, appointments may be scheduled for drop-off similar to returning undergraduate students (see above) August 17-21 through THD. Graduate students on 11-week semesters starting September 28 must contact Residence Life to arrange their move-in date.

Dining on Campus

Our campus dining facilities must abide by the same state regulations assigned to restaurants in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As such, we will be fully prepared to offer students an array of dining options in the manner that is consistent with the regulations at the time of opening.

The University’s Dining Service partner, Aramark, has a comprehensive plan that includes increased cleaning standards and safety protocols in the preparation and delivery of all food products. In addition to socially-distanced on-campus meal options, students will be given more opportunities to receive their meals in a “to-go” format. Outdoor seating will also be expanded and Aramark is exploring the development of a mobile app to allow students to place food orders to reduce potential wait times.


Participation in athletics is an extremely valued aspect of a Western New England University experience. The University is doing everything possible to ensure that students will be able to compete in athletics in the year ahead. Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) officials, including Presidents, Athletic Directors, and Medical Directors continue to meet and work in consultation with NCAA guidelines to establish safe guidelines for return to play. 

Similar to what is happening nationally, there are a lot of variables that the University will consider before athletic training, practice, and competition is authorized. The health and safety of our student athletes will always be our top priority.

The University is currently planning to move forward with fall athletics as planned although there will be significant differences and protocols for athletic participation for all student-athletes, coaches, and staff. There is no change to the pre-season arrival schedule.

The Department of Athletics will be communicating specific details regarding return to play preparedness and protocol in early August. This includes decisions and protocols regarding club and intra-mural sports. 

Student-athletes, as always, are encouraged to remain in contact with their coach and teammates throughout the summer.  


Our community has demonstrated a strong ability to adapt since the outbreak of COVID-19 and will need to remain flexible as we begin the fall semester. One of the most challenging components of this pandemic has been our greatly diminished ability to plan for the future in every aspect of our lives. We can and will be prepared for multiple scenarios, but things can change quickly. Plans will likely be altered, and we will be ready to adapt as a community. There is no perfect plan at any college or university. We can resolve issues that arise with civility and respect. This is the Golden Bear Way. 

The Spring Semester

We will learn from our experience in the fall semester and announce our plan for the spring semester in early December.

Similar to what took place this past summer, the University is planning for a more robust set of undergraduate winter-intersession course offerings, all to be offered online and at a discounted rate to allow students to keep momentum towards their degree while saving money over the winter break.

Let’s Have a Conversation–The Golden Bear COVID-19 Helpdesk

We understand that is it is impossible to provide every detail of our campus opening in one document. You still may have questions after reading this. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have found the most rewarding and helpful course of action has been a heartfelt telephone conversation between a student or family member and the right member of our dedicated staff or faculty.

To facilitate more of these important conversations, we have created the Golden Bear COVID-19 Helpdesk. Please call 413-782-1321 on Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. to discuss your questions. A member of our team will answer basic questions or connect you to the member of the University community who is best equipped to have a detailed conversation with you within one business day. Please note that we are closed on Friday, July 3.

We have also scheduled two Zoom Town Hall Meetings on Monday, July 27 and Wednesday, July 29 from 6:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m. where students and families can hear an overview of this plan and ask direct questions regarding the fall opening. This will also be an important opportunity for us to connect with each other before seeing each other this fall. Details to participate will be emailed to the community in mid-July. 

A Sincere Note of Gratitude

I express my gratitude and appreciation to our students and their families. This has been so very hard on all of you—and you have been remarkable through it all, remaining kind, gracious, and understanding. Your lives have been altered in profound ways. I am, however, ever more hopeful that the adversity you have overcome will make you stronger and more determined to fulfill whatever goals you aspire to reach. I do hope your aspirations involve making a positive difference in the lives of others. Many of us have learned as we confront this pandemic that our greatest gift is our relationship with each other. As I write to you for one of the last times in my twenty-five years as University President, I extend my sincerest gratitude to students, families, faculty, and staff for all that you have done and will continue to do to strengthen and lift up the Western New England University community. 


Anthony S. Caprio