In an email sent to the student body earlier today, Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr informed students that Pomona “is moving forward with plans for a phased reopening in the spring, on the path to a full reopening in the fall. To do so, [Pomona] will need approval from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health,” expected by December. The decision to push forward was made despite student outcry at the heavy restrictions students will face on a reopened campus, such as wearing masks at all times and disallowing guests from entering residence halls. With the possible exception of some physical education classes, all classes will continue to be held online.
In order to facilitate an open campus for the spring semester, Pomona and the other Claremont Colleges preemptively removed the usual spring break from the semester schedule to prevent a wave of infections caused by students returning from vacations. The decision has drawn condemnation from students across the Consortium, who argue that “Zoom classes are more demanding for professors and students and therefore require more—not fewer—breaks overall.” Other restrictions, including the decision to bar students from having cars on campus “as travel to and from campus will be limited,” have been controversial among students. The decision to compress the spring semester has also been met with outcry. According to an article in The Student Life, the compressed fall semester led to “student and professor burnout and prompted recommendations of reduced workload.” The same article states that “[s]ome students are worried the new spring calendar will bring about the same levels of stress with little reprieve.” One student called the decision to continue with a compressed semester online “a slap in the face to all the consortium students.”
According to the email, Pomona is “publicly advocating for a responsible reopening of higher education in Los Angeles County and meeting with health officials to make the case. On the state level, President Starr is working on this issue as chair of the reopening task force for AICCU, the main group for private colleges in California.” For Pomona’s campus, the email reads, “multiple planning groups are implementing [Pomona’s] protocols for contact tracing and testing, as well as physical preparations—upgrading air filtering systems, installing plastic barriers and automatic door openers along with many other steps—for residence halls and other facilities.”
Not all students will be permitted or able to return to campus, the email says. If Los Angeles county permits colleges to reopen, Pomona knows that “not all students would be able to return due to expected requirements for lower population density on campus to hinder spread of the virus. [Pomona] also recognize[s] that some students are not able to return for health and other reasons…students will not be mandated or required to return to campus for spring.”
Pomona will also convene “a new phased restart planning group, made up of faculty, students and staff, which will advise and work collaboratively across the active campus and consortium planning groups to guide decisions as [the college] move[s] forward. Additional details will be coming in the days ahead.”