November 22, 2020 5:15 PM
Carmen Twillie Ambar, President

Dear Oberlin Community,

When this pandemic first appeared in Oberlin last spring, we took steps to keep our community safe. As you will recall, we moved Spring Recess up, asked students to depart campus and determined that the remainder of the semester would be completed remotely. It was the right decision at the time to keep us all safe.

We, of course, opened in person in the fall with all of the mitigation measures that we have all come to know as the layered strategy.

And now, as we approach the end of our Fall Semester, I cannot tell you how thankful I am and pleased that we have been able to stay on campus with in-person classes as originally planned. We have been able to do so while keeping our community safe and while continuing to offer an unparalleled academic and musical experience.

I am so proud that we have been able to accomplish what we set out to do. And that all of us (students, faculty, and staff) did it together. Our commitment to each other during this complicated time is proof of our resilience, our ability to accept adversity and our willingness to move forward with determination and good judgment. Collectively we have continued, I believe, to make the right decisions.

As we evaluate the current state of the pandemic, good judgment once again demands that we take the necessary steps to ensure our community’s safety while we work to provide the on-campus Oberlin experience we value so highly.

Much of the nation is struggling under increasing rates of community spread and Ohio is no different. The most concerning part of these increasing rates is that public health experts predict that during the holiday season, if people congregate indoors, the spread of COVID-19 will accelerate.

That is one of the reasons Governor Mike DeWine said earlier this month that college students may not be able to return to campus in January. Such a change would give any holiday outbreak time to slow before students return.

We know from our experience this fall that so far, we have been able to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on our campus. And that all of us, but particularly our Obies, can slow the spread of this virus if given the tools and the opportunity. So to help ensure that we are able to begin the Spring Semester with the same momentum we developed in the fall, we are delaying the January 7 start of classes. The new start of Spring Semester classes will be February 1, with move-in January 25-29. More information will be forthcoming. However, Arts and Sciences sophomores and many Conservatory students will now be able to complete Winter Term in January.

This delay to the beginning of classes will allow our students to self-quarantine at home after the holidays, and prepare to arrive on campus safe and healthy. This change does delay the end of the semester and the beginning of our Summer Semester, but the change is manageable.

We continue to evaluate the possibility of conducting spring sports, but I will say that the path is narrow. If we do have competition, it will likely be quite different from a normal season.

Spring Semester will end on May 13, with a tentative Senior Class Celebration scheduled for May 14, pending more favorable public health conditions.

In the next few days, you will receive information about how to schedule yourself for testing as well as a revised move-in schedule. Similar to last August, when students arrive on campus there will be a mini-quarantine until initial test results are received with students only leaving their rooms to pick up meals.

During the fall term, after the initial week, the turn-around time for our testing results were regularly between 24-48 hours. But, like the fall, we should be prepared for a longer turn-around time during this first week in February, given the status of COVID cases nationally. Like the fall, we will begin with remote classes during our first week out of an abundance of caution.

We know that these types of changes can generate a series of questions, so we are hosting a one-hour webinar at 3 p.m. (EST) on December 1 for all students and parents. Dean Kamitsuka, Dean Quillen, Dean Raimondo and I, as well as others will be available to discuss the coming semester and answer your questions. Please register in advance for this webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

You know the 3-semester plan was one of the foundations of our layered healthcare strategy. It is creative, and it allows more students to have an in-person experience. But, one of its most important attributes is that it provides us with flexibility and with options to pivot should we need to do so. This small delay to the beginning of the spring term provides us with a better opportunity to complete the semester with the health and safety framework that has served us so well this fall.

So while we will be apart for a few weeks longer than we planned, please continue to practice the ObieSafe protocols wherever you are.

We are so excited at the prospect of welcoming our juniors to campus for the first time in many months. Please know that we have missed you, and we realize that you have sacrificed greatly. We have had an extraordinary fall, and your fellow Obies have set the bar high. But, I am confident that our returning juniors, along with our first years and seniors, will pull off in the spring what we have been able to do together this fall. And we very much look forward to welcoming our sophomores back to campus for Summer Semester.

I wish all of you an enjoyable and safe Thanksgiving filled with health, good food, and good memories.

Until we see each other again, stay well!

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President