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8/13/2020 - Undergraduate Program to be Fully Remote in Fall 2020

To: The Caltech Community
   Thomas F. Rosenbaum, President
   David A. Tirrell, Provost
   Joseph E. Shepherd, Vice President for Student Affairs
   Kevin M. Gilmartin, Dean of Undergraduate Students and Incoming Vice President for Student Affairs

We are disappointed and saddened to announce that our undergraduate program must be fully remote in Fall 2020. 

New Protocols for Institutes of Higher Education, issued yesterday by Los Angeles County, preclude in-person instruction and on-campus dormitory living, excluding even the scaled-back model we had planned. In mid-July, we announced that the Fall 2020 plan was to invite up to one-third of our undergraduate students to live in socially distanced campus residences, with a focus on bringing to campus students whose academic progress or transition to Caltech's academic environment would most benefit from in-person instruction and on-campus engagements. 

Staff, faculty, and administrators across the Institute have dedicated months of preparation to developing and implementing the procedures and preventative measures needed to make such an experience possible. At the same time, we knew that our plans would have to be contingent on the progression of COVID-19 in our community, and, more broadly, in the state and across the country. 

In their Protocols, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department states that high community transmission rates within the county require more restrictive actions to slow the spread of disease. In particular, the Protocols require Los Angeles area universities and colleges to forego occupation of undergraduate residences, except by students with no alternative housing options, and to limit in-person instruction to training that is required for the essential workforce and that cannot be accomplished via distance learning. 

We do not believe that the Los Angeles County Protocols have direct implications for our graduate students who live in apartment settings and engage in laboratory research that is regulated by other workplace protocols. However, we are seeking further clarity on this matter from the Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD). While PPHD has not yet issued its own protocols for higher education, we expect the agency's guidance to follow closely the state and county guidance. 

While in-person interactions will be limited, we have redoubled efforts across the Institute to create community virtually and to foster a robust and engaging educational experience for all students. As they did during the Spring 2020 term, Caltech faculty and staff have developed teaching techniques to engage students with course material at a distance. Through the efforts of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Outreach and other units on campus, we have invested in additional collaborative tools and technologies for instructors and students, implemented a new learning management system, and organized workshops and discussion sessions on effective teaching methods. 

Furthermore, to support Caltech's essential collaborative learning environment, the Undergraduate Deans' Office and Office of Residential Experience will establish virtual living/learning groups for first-year students, with regular interactions and engagements with an assigned faculty advisor and undergraduate peer and graduate mentors. All students will also benefit from active study group sessions and peer-led programming, and will have dedicated opportunities for close student-faculty interactions. A good example is this year's Freshman Summer Research Institute, which has demonstrated how our instructors and staff can convey and test science and engineering concepts across great distances and successfully create community among students who did not know one another previously. We will continue to build on these efforts and others to ensure that the fall term will provide the extraordinary opportunities for intellectual and personal growth that are characteristic of a Caltech education. 

The requirement to restrict on-campus residential living and academic instruction brings to the fore the continuing progression of the pandemic and serves as an important reminder of the critical role that each of us plays in mitigating the spread of disease and in keeping our community healthy. It is imperative that we continue to maintain a reduced density on campus and limit building and facility access to only those who are required to be on-campus for their work. Anyone who comes to campus must adhere to Institute guidelines that mandate personal health monitoring and reporting, physical distancing, and the use of cloth face coverings.

In light of the ongoing public health risks to our community, we discourage undergraduate students from moving to Pasadena in order to live near campus. All in-person, group activities on campus will be prohibited and undergraduate students' access to physical spaces and buildings, beyond what is the limited use of the athletic and dining facilities and other spaces accessible to the general public, will be restricted as part of our effort to reduce the risk of spreading infection and foster the well-being of our community.

We thank you for your patience and partnership as we continue to adapt to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this is not the outcome any of us wanted, we know that our community will respond to this new challenge with determination and ingenuity. 

The educational experience we provide our students this fall will adhere to the high standards of the Institute and will be designed with a transition to post-pandemic in-person education in mind. Should public health guidance or the conditions surrounding the pandemic change, we will be ready to safely return and support an on-campus experience for students in the winter and spring terms. At this time, however, the outlook for what we will be able to offer in person this academic year remains uncertain.

We will continue to keep you informed as we approach the start of the 2020-21 academic year.