BU Provost Axes Spring Break 2021
On Sept. 29th, Boston University’s Office of the Provost announced that they were cancelling spring break for the upcoming 2021 spring semester. Although this decision is certainly disappointing for thousands across the BU community, university administration does not intend it as a punishment. In their memo to BU faculty, students, and staff, Provost Jean Morrison commended the “tireless work of faculty and staff...and the diligence of all community members in adhering to [the] new public health protocols.” Although BU has successfully avoided any major outbreaks of COVID-19 since reopening for the Fall 2020 semester, the spread of the pandemic has shown few signs of slowing nationwide. BU has had less than 400 positive cases out of nearly half a million tests, but the spread of the pandemic has shown few signs of slowing nationwide. Campuses across the country such as University of Wisconsin in Madison, Notre Dame, and even Boston College have experienced dramatic increases in cases since the return of students to campus, and in the past week, there have been more than 100,000 new cases each day.
With the second wave of higher COVID infections concurrent with the winter cold and flu season already upon us, BU’s administration has ultimately determined that axing spring break is the right move in order to “reduce [the BU] community’s risk of exposure to COVID-19 by limiting the amount of travel occurring during the semester.” Travel is an essential aspect of spring break; many students utilize the break to return home and visit their families, while others, an estimated million and a half each year, travel hundreds or thousands of miles to congregate at beaches and resorts in tourist destinations across the globe. In 2020, several university campuses experienced COVID-19 outbreaks in the weeks following spring break, which some medical experts are now blaming on students who travelled to areas like Florida and New York.
Boston University is a large university that sits in the middle of a major metropolitan area. Reopening campus for more than 40,000 students, faculty and staff, was no small feat and posed many glaring challenges and dangers. When the lockdown began in mid-March, BU followed suit with schools around the globe and closed down, implementing entirely remote instruction for the rest of the semester. As the quarantine progressed, some Boston-area universities such as Harvard announced that they would be continuing remote instruction into the Fall semester. BU, on the other hand, became one the first universities in the nation to announce concrete plans to reopen.
This operation would be aided by the University’s rigorous in-house RT-PCR testing and contact tracing program, which aims to proactively locate and isolate potential outbreaks. Anyone who comes in contact with campus is required to be tested between one and three times per week. BU’s on-campus laboratories are capable of processing roughly 5,000 tests each day, and since July 27th, the University has administered over a quarter of a million tests. This program, whose data is updated daily via the BU Testing Dashboard, has allowed on-campus residences and dining halls to reopen at limited capacity. BU also responded to students unwilling or unable to return to campus for in-person instruction with a program called “Learn From Anywhere.” Regardless of living status, students are allowed to take any number of their classes remotely, and may also attend some in-person classes in accordance with quarantine regulations.
With universities across the country already succumbing to COVID outbreaks, Boston University has been praised for its success at containing the spread of the virus. The administration has made their position on breaking social distancing guidelines clear, threatening suspension to students who attend on or off-campus gatherings with 10 or more people. Thus, this decision to cancel spring break is hardly surprising, considering the University’s “show-must-go-on” mentality about classes during the pandemic. Yet, the school is also notorious for having some of the most difficult exams in the US. The decision not to give students a week off will do nothing but increase the stress that students are under after what will be more than a year of quarantine and social distancing.
In late July, BU released its Fall 2020 Academic Calendar, which planned to continue with Thanksgiving break as scheduled, ending the semester in mid-December. BU encourages that students stay on campus until the end of the semester, and recommends that those who choose to go home stay home and take classes remotely for the rest of the semester (Brown). BU plans to begin classes a week later in January and end a week earlier in May to compensate for the lack of a spring break. Either way, one can be cautiously optimistic that BU will avoid a major outbreak, as the University has proven willing to make difficult sacrifices in order to contain the pandemic.