News And Events

RISD Announces Preparations For Fall 2021

RISD Announces Preparations for Fall 2021

As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out, RISD leadership takes a two-pronged approach to planning the coming academic year.

photograph of RISD's quad in autumn sunlight

photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

With scientists and other experts learning more each day about COVID-19’s impact and the path to herd immunity, RISD is simultaneously planning for two possible fall scenarios: “near normal” and “vaccine failure.” In a recent communication to the RISD community, President Rosanne Somerson said, “We are encouraged by positive trends and hopeful that our fall semester will look as close to normal as possible, but we’re also preparing for unexpected challenges.” Decision making, she adds, has been—and will continue to be—guided by three primary goals: community health and safety, academic integrity and financial viability. The scenarios are detailed in a full report with dates and key contacts on covid.risd.edu.

“We are encouraged by positive trends and hopeful that our fall semester will look as close to normal as possible, but we’re also preparing for unexpected challenges.”

President Rosanne Somerson

students in  painting studio

The “near normal” scenario is defined as one in which more than 75 percent of the general population and nearly all of RISD’s student population has been inoculated, the effectiveness and longevity of the vaccine is sufficiently established and widely accepted, and social distancing is no longer required. In that scenario, enrollment will return to pre-pandemic numbers (approximately 2,500 students) and RISD will require all returning students to be vaccinated. 

Based on recommendations from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), RISD will also require all returning students to undergo baseline testing and will continue to conduct regular surveillance testing as the fall semester gets underway. The administration will continue to adhere to CDC and RIDOH guidelines as the fall approaches but does not anticipate a mandatory quarantine at the beginning of the semester or social distancing mandates. Community members will, however, be required to wear masks in all public indoor spaces.

College Hill with student riding bike

Although much planning has yet to be done, the anticipated start of the fall semester is September 8, observance of the Thanksgiving holiday will return to a pre-pandemic approach (Wednesday–Sunday, November 24–28) and the semester will end on December 14. Under the “near normal” scenario, guests will once again be allowed in RISD buildings, and the public will be welcomed back into the RISD Museum, Fleet Library and RISD Store.

The “vaccine failure” plan would take effect in the event of a new variant outbreak or problems with the vaccine’s efficacy or distribution. In that case, RISD will maintain current operating conditions, with a hybrid approach to live versus online teaching, increased testing and strict social distancing policies.

“I am proud of the ways the RISD community has worked together to keep each other safe while staying true to our academic integrity and place-based commitment.”

President Rosanne Somerson

“We have had great success in conducting hybrid, virtual and in-person courses in a de-densified manner this year,” says Somerson, “and I am proud of the ways the RISD community has worked together to keep each other safe while staying true to our academic integrity and place-based commitment.”

a student wearing a mask works at a loom

Because of the community’s patience and commitment to maintaining a safe campus, RISD was able to creatively reopen the college for the 2020–21 academic year, allowing approximately 1,800 students to study on campus each semester as well as about 450 remote students. The fall 2020 semester ended with fewer than 25 cumulative student positive cases, placing RISD in the top tier of school results nationally, and to date, RISD continues to have lower than average numbers. In terms of academics, the faculty adapted its curricula and pedagogical approach in more than 750 classes to a virtual setting, resulting in innovative ways of making and learning previously unimagined. 

The RISD administration will decide on which fall 2021 scenario to implement by mid summer, and staff will prepare to welcome students back to campus accordingly. In both scenarios, RISD leadership anticipates potentially maintaining some of the beneficial innovations precipitated by the pandemic, such as using Zoom for some guest lecturers, critics and studio presentations; continuing to provide recorded technical tutorials, shop orientations and online advising; and considering presenting various large lectures online. Faculty members will determine which modality they intend to utilize (live, online or hybrid) by early June so that returning students can select classes based on their preferences. 

Visit covid.risd.edu/health-and-safety/fall-2021-planning for more information and regular updates. 

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