Returning to Campus

Background: State’s Phased Reopening

Higher education institutions have predominantly been operating remotely since March 23, when Governor Baker issued COVID-19 Order Number 13, temporarily closing all brick-and-mortar premises of businesses and organizations that do not provide essential services. 

With the state’s July 2 move into Phase III of the Governor’s reopening plan, Senator Brownsberger has received questions from constituents regarding what a return to campus life might look like this fall.

While the Governor’s strategy situates the reopening of colleges and universities in Phase III, limited aspects of institutional operations resumed in Phases I and II. Across all phases of reopening, the Department of Higher Education (DHE) has encouraged schools to adhere to the state’s mandatory workplace safety standards regarding social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, and hygiene protocols. DHE also recently released specific guidance for Phase III reopening in the form of a Higher Education Control Plan template, supplementing July 29 guidance from the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities in Massachusetts.

On May 27, the Massachusetts Higher Education Working Group released a proposal for the reopening of public and private institutions. The group asserts that due to their diverse nature, campuses should make their own tailored plans for safe reopening and operations this fall, which should include protocols for symptom monitoring, social distancing, use of masks, availability of isolation and quarantine space, and contact tracing.

The group suggests a phased approach; like the Governor’s plan for the state, the move to subsequent phases should be guided by progress in public health data. 

As schools consider their reopening plans, the working group suggests implementing a range of flexible strategies to protect students and staff from infection, including:

  • Organizing students into residential family-like “households”
  • Clustering students with shared courses to minimize contacts
  • Considering lower-occupancy where capacity will allow
  • Reorganizing spaces to accommodate necessary physical distancing
  • Utilizing a combination of in-person and remote learning

Fall Reopening Plans

Many schools have already released plans for the fall. The chart below summarizes these policies and seeks to demonstrate some of the differences expected on-campus this fall.

2019 Undergraduate EnrollmentExpected On-Campus PopulationOn-Campus Housing Fall 2020 Return Policy
Boston College14,600UnknownAvailable:
Rooms will be occupied to designed capacity
On-campus, in-person instruction; remote learning available
Boston University35,472Approximately 7,000 compared to the usual 11,500 living on-campusAvailable:
Freshman on-campus residency requirement waived
All undergraduates may choose to attend classes in-person or remotely
Harvard6,699All first year students are invited to campus; up to 40% of all undergraduates could return to campusAvailable: Students will live in single-bedrooms with a shared bathroomAll course instruction will be delivered online
MIT4,530Only seniors will be invited to campusAvailable: Rising sophomores and juniors are eligible Only students who live on-campus will be eligible for in-person instruction
Northeastern20,400UnknownAvailable:
University will institute reduced densities in residential halls
All undergraduates may choose to attend classes in-person or remotely
Simmons1,777A small number of students in clinical and field placements; practicums; and research projects will be invited to campusAvailable:
Students will live in single-bedrooms
All course instruction will be delivered online
UMass Boston15,989UnknownProjects being able to provide some on-campus housingAll course instruction will be delivered online

Managing Off-Campus Risks

While institutions have worked hard to prepare for the arrival of students on campus this fall, Senator Brownsberger has fielded concerns from community members regarding off-campus activity and the role schools will play in managing potential risks. The table below summarizes the expectations local schools have enacted for students, including potential ramifications for noncompliance, as well as resources for community members who may observe potentially risky off-campus behavior.

Institutional ExpectationsEnforcement MechanismCommunity Resource
Boston CollegeEach student must sign and submit the “Eagles Care Pledge,” which has been updated to include COVID-19 health and safety protocols.Any student who violates behavioral expectations outlined in the Student Code of Conduct will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. Any student who hosts or attends an unsafe (no masks and without healthy distancing) gathering, either on- or off-campus, will be subject to disciplinary sanctions, including suspension and loss of on-campus housing.There are three resources for reporting off-campus student behavior, including:

Business Hours:
Off-Campus Student Community Liaison | (617) 552-6028

Business Hours:
Office of Governmental & Community Affairs | (617) 552-4787

24/7 Resource:
BC Police |
(617) 552-4440 
Boston UniversityEach student must sign and submit a Health Commitments & Expectations Agreement, which makes clear that compliance will be a condition of being a member of the university’s on-campus community. Violations of the university’s COVID-19 protocols will result in a range of repercussions, which are detailed here.

Any student who hosts or attends a large (more than 25 people) gathering, either on- or off-campus, will be subject to disciplinary sanctions, including suspension.
A tip line and digital complaint form have been set up so that any party may report non-compliance:
(617) 353-5050
Online Reporting Portal
Northeastern UniversityEach student must sign and submit the “Expectations for Return to Campus Attestation Form”, which is summarized in this video. The university reserves the right to rescind students’ offer of admission if they engage in conduct that is inconsistent with Northeastern’s mission or its expectations of admitted students. Any student who hosts or attends an unsafe (no masks and without healthy distancing) gathering, either on- or off-campus, can expect to receive a suspension.Northeastern has established a confidential, 24-hour tip line for reporting off-campus behavior that does not follow health and safety guidelines:
(617) 373-7477

Join the Conversation

21 Comments

  1. Per our collective experience with the university corporations, we know they do not care a fig about the larger community. After our months of compliance to contain the pandemic the unicorps’ selfish actions means death or continuous imprisonment for us. It interesting watching the institutions that have already opened close their campus’ and push back on ‘containment’ plans one by one. Its an interesting exercise for a beautiful summer evening locked in your own home to calculate the infection rates per total on campus students for the schools that are already ‘rethinking’ their opening. We in Allston-Brighton won’t even get that–stock unicorps answer ‘we can’t control what students do off campus.’
    Thank you Quinn Diaz for putting the chart together.

  2. Honestly, I have to agree with Barbara. I’m dismayed that these schools are opening campuses at all. They make valuable contributions to the city, but often don’t seem to feel responsible to the community. They don’t even pay PILOT fees! (IIRC, BC pays the most of any school…and it’s something like 40% of the request.)
    I’m worried. I’m really, really worried. At any given moment, we’re only 6-8 weeks out from either full containment, or a complete firestorm. Reopening campuses and bringing tens of thousands of people from all over, back to Boston, is incredibly risky. I’ve read BU’s plans, and honestly, the more precautions they say they’re implementing, the more risky it sounds. How long are people realistically going to put up with being tested every 3 days, wearing masks, eating separately, etc? I worry that in their determination to resume in-person instruction, they’re turning schools into pressure cookers, that could become time bombs.
    And I just can’t fathom why they need to do it? So a bunch of people will take a gap year rather than pay for remote instruction? BU and Harvard have endowments in the billions! And they have enough money to give $150 tests to tens of thousands of people twice a week. The cost-benefit analysis just seems incredibly skewed.

  3. It seems that the colleges and universities have forgotten about the neighborhoods that they live in. They should have testing set up for anyone who lives in their neighborhood and neighborhood notification for positive results of student testing.

  4. BU and BC will follow Holy Cross and Notre Dame and many other universities and will completely ignore safety guidelines and will start Party Time. Neither the universities or the students care that they will spread the virus into our neighborhoods and up the death tolls

  5. I agree with the above comments. The thing that bothers me is that the ADULTS know the students will not be able to conform to the mask and no large gathering mandate. Then when they are “caught” they will get blamed. It’s like putting a piece of candy out on a low table and then telling the 3 year old they can’t eat it…. good grief Charlie Brown. We KNOW what will happen. Emerson already has a punishment … take away the college access card. It is hard for the colleges but they are the grownups.

  6. The observational data that is so far available indicates that a percentage of college people when asked to do the right thing do the wrong thing…and the sad fact of the matter is that a very small number of people numerically and/or percentage wise will vector the pandemic exponentially and critically.

  7. Quinn and Bill,
    Whom should we contact when we see and hear students going to crowded house parties in the neighborhood? Will the BC police be patrolling off campus, such as the Sharon very large dorm at 2000 Commonwealth Ave? In the past, they have refused to respond to complaints about drunken and noisy students who were off-campus. BC police dispatch told me to call the Boston Police who can take several hours to respond on Friday and Saturday nights. We know that Boston Police will not be doing “COVID patrol”.

  8. It all depends on how responsible students will prove to be. My daughter will return to her out-of-state campus soon. Right now, her university has zero covid cases. She must be tested and self-isolate for a week beforehand, and will be tested and confined to her dorm for a week afterward. What worries me is what happens after that. She knows the rules, but impromptu gatherings will still happen. Students are ultimately responsible for maintaining hygiene and distancing. If universities and colleges don’t take similar precautions and diligently hector and discipline students who break the rules, we can be sure something bad will happen.

  9. Quinn, the BU UGrad enrollment number is incorrect; I think you have the total UGrad plus Grad/Professional number. Last year it had a total undergraduate enrollment of 18,515

  10. It’s wild what a difference a week makes. My partner and I walk our dog every night around 10 p.m. in Allston. Last Friday the 14th, as it has been much of the summer, it was a quiet night with few people out. Not so last night. Many college kids have already returned to Allston. We walked past several groups of students, some of whom were masked and some who were not, and all of whom were intent on taking up the entire sidewalk, making it difficult to distance from those not wearing masks. And there was at least one large and loud house party, with people coming and going. I can only imagine how much worse it’s going to be after September 1st. I’ve lived in Allston over a decade now and this is the first time I’ve truly resented it being a college neighborhood. Trust me, I would haves out if I could have.

  11. Although the Universities are a great asset to the intellectual and economic vibrancy of our area, my observations are young people have difficulty being compliant with the current social norms around COVID. We are faced with a juggling act between health and economy.

  12. I echo the sentiments of those who have commented on the risks posed by returning college students. As a 45 year Fenway resident, I know what it is like to live among students and know first hand that they do not consider the impact of their behavior on their neighbors. It simply does not occur to them. Add this to a young person’s inherent belief that bad things do not happen to young people, and one has a recipe for a very bad fall of increasing COVID cases. Blame them as one might, the real responsibility lies with the universities. That those with the highest matriculation (such as Northeastern and Boston University) have assumed no responsibility for monitoring or controlling students’ activity while off campus reinforces the frustration, anger and resentment of their attitude toward the host city and its residents. I fully understand the difficulty that COVID has imposed on schools and students and rue that the lack of leadership and effective action at the federal level has left us to grapple with the consequences. But to march forward with fingers crossed (or perhaps with no trepidation at all) leaves all of us vulnerable in the face of serious and potentially deadly results. I therefore encourage our public officials to bring pressure on the universities to answer to these real and wholly justifiable concerns.

    As a side note, BU made a commitment to the City of Boston to house 75% of its undergraduate students on campus. If it is the case the BU undergraduate class is at or near 18,515 students (as stated in an earlier comment), BU is housing only 62% of its undergraduates in its campus facilities. In the current circumstances, this shortfall is particularly unfortunate as well as galling.

  13. BU just announced it won’t tell faculty & grad student teachers or students, if someone in their classroom tests Covid+. That’s reckless endangerment of its students and employees, let alone for everyone living and working in Kenmore, Allston, etc. I would hope that the legislature would find some way to hold them accountable, if Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh won’t.

    1. Wow. That’s incredibly irresponsible and is not at all how contact tracing works.
      There are many ways of notifying contacts without violating a student’s privacy, as many of the people commenting have pointed out.
      Faculty/staff are not living on-campus; they’re returning home and could infect their family/roommates/etc far outside Boston.

      Link to article: https://www.bu.edu/articles/2020/citing-student-privacy-bu-faculty-wont-be-told-if-students-test-positive-for-covid-19/

  14. Colleges re-opening to in-person will contribute to more coronavirus cases and will likely further delay any reopening of boston public schools. I’d like my daughter to go back to her Boston public school please. My son is in private school and gets to return full-time next week. Guess what I will be doing come early 2021 if the situation doesn’t improve for my daughter, shopping around for private schools! I’m truly dismayed at what is happening with public education right now. This is a time when we need the heavy hand to come in and decide what is best for citizens – If I were Governor I would prioritize reopening public schools and ask casinos, maybe even colleges to remain closed until essential services like education are resumed. Our public school kids are suffering and the impact on their lives and our society will be felt long after we are gone.

  15. I think the colleges and universities should show that they are serious about this. Most of the students I have seen so far seem to be conforming to the Boston mask and distancing rules. If you are a student and you don’t follow social distancing and mask wearing you should be expelled from that institution with out a refund whether it be on campus or in the community. No exceptions. There should be a number to call from each of the institutions that will result in having school enforcement personnel sent to monitor these students. Let’s see if a student is going to risk a $50,000 to $60,000 fine to flout the Boston Covid rules

  16. My family has lived in the West Fenway since 1997, and the change from it being a tight-nit community to a place fully dominated by students and internationals has been dramatic. Now that the students have returned in this year of the corona virus, we feel both inundated, concerned and frightened for our health. Although the students must sign and submit health commitments, who is actually monitoring this? Can any of it be monitored? It all seems like something that sounds good on paper, but the reality is wholly different. Even in the last few days, we have noticed students crowded together at cafes, restaurants, bars, stores; some are wearing protection, many others not. Most not practicing any sort of social distancing, and when we walk the sidewalks we find ourselves constantly having to make way for people who seem unaware that there is anyone around them. What this means is that in a few weeks, people will get sick, and NONE of this would have to happen if the colleges cared less for the bottom line and more about its staff, its students and the people living in the surrounding community. Our daughter is going to be starting her junior year at Boston Latin, and at least there they had the good sense to hold classes online. For certain, it’s not optimal, but the alternative is that someone, or a lot of someones, will get sick, suffer, and possibly die. I understand that many folks want to believe this is some kind of a hoax, our president chief among them. But it’s no hoax. 180,000+ are dead.

  17. Please ask the dept of public health to deem the college areas hot spots like the current hot spot towns, and increase services, testing etc. They surely will be soon and preparedness could make a difference, since we have so little control over the students’ behavior.

  18. I would like to engage our college and high school age students in a conversation about how to ‘party’ safely but I don’t know how to go about reaching the right people to set this up. Could anyone help me? We had an outreach here in the Corey Hill area over moving week. We offered water, masks, advice, and basic community orientation (where the POs and boxes are, where to get the best cup of coffee (Brighton Cafe’), buy veggies (Johnny D’s of course), etc. and had a very positive response. We also did a ‘hold the line’ outreach the week before to our immediate businesses to continue to post ‘masks expected’ signage–again with a very positive response. The bottom line is everyone wants to live but we also want the illusion of normalcy and control. Older high school and college students want to socialize and engage in behaviors that they expect as part of student life. Rather than taking parental roles and telling them what to do, we need to engage students and student leaders in a conversation and guide them in the development of strategies of how engage in student life safely. Any ideas how to start this conversation?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *