UNE announces fall 2020 return to campus plan

UNE has announced UNE Onward, the University's plan for resuming on-campus operations in for the fall 2020 semester.
UNE has announced UNE Onward, the University's plan for resuming on-campus operations for the fall 2020 semester.

Following its early commitment to welcome students back to face-to-face learning on its Portland and Biddeford campuses, the University of New England (UNE) is pleased to announce its plan to resume on-campus operations and instruction in modified formats for Academic Year 2020-21.

The plan, known as UNE Onward, was developed with guidance from leading health experts at the state and national levels, as well as from the University’s own exceptional scientists and public health professionals. 

The plan makes clear that the University’s highest priority is maintaining the health and safety of its students, faculty, and professional staff. To that end, UNE is committing to a four-tiered COVID-19 testing program that will include initial broad-based entry testing of all undergraduate students, ongoing symptomatic testing, focused surveillance testing of certain asymptomatic individuals, and testing of wastewater emerging from each residence hall. 

Additionally, all undergraduate students will be required to bring evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their arrival to campus and will be tested again shortly thereafter. This testing strategy is made possible through partnerships with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and MaineHealth’s NorDx Laboratories. Modifications are also being made to accommodate social distancing in classrooms, housing, and dining, and the University has designated an area in one of its residence halls as a quarantine location should students contract the virus.

The fall 2020 plan is designed to evolve as circumstances around the novel coronavirus pandemic change and will serve as a living document in the event UNE must shift its plans in response to changing conditions at the University, state, and national level.

“While we have developed a robust strategy for safely welcoming students back to campus, we recognize that, as conditions evolve, our community cannot completely eliminate risks associated with the virus until an effective vaccine is available. Our institution, with its diverse array of programs that draw students from all walks of life, cannot completely isolate itself from the rest of the world,” said UNE President James Herbert. “This being the case, UNE’s plan is inherently flexible, and we will continue to make updates throughout the summer months and beyond, consistent with the evolving information from government agencies, the scientific literature, the higher education community, and the shifting conditions in our surrounding communities.”

UNE’s plan expands upon a framework for opening Maine’s higher education institutions, Sustaining Higher Education and Sustaining Maine: A Framework for Reopening Maine’s Colleges and Universities in Fall 2020, which was developed in collaboration with all of Maine’s private colleges, the University of Maine System, and the community college system.

To facilitate safe instruction of courses and provide students with the world-class education in which they have invested, UNE will be moving to a “hybrid instruction” model for fall 2020 for undergraduate courses, involving a mix of face-to-face and asynchronous online learning experiences.

Additionally, a detailed classroom and teaching laboratory analysis has been conducted using six-foot social distancing guidelines to inform class sizes, the number of class sections, and time slots to balance face-to-face teaching and learning with available resources. 

Several other resources inform UNE’s plan, including, but not limited to, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Maine CDC, the World Health Organization, the State of Maine Office of the Governor, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the developing science on COVID-19, and emerging best practices in higher education. UNE is implementing some policies and practices more stringent than those recommended by the aforementioned agencies, out of an abundance of caution for the members of the university community. 

“We are taking seriously our commitment to provide a safe environment for our students to receive their education,” said Paul Berkner, medical director of Student Health Services at UNE. “As the state’s leading educator of health professionals, the University’s own, world-class health experts have worked to help inform that commitment.”

UNE has already found success in safely welcoming graduate and professional students back to its campuses this summer both in Portland and Biddeford. Faculty with research laboratories also began returning to campus in June and will continue to do so throughout the summer months. What the University has learned from the successful experiences of faculty and professional staff in the College of Dental Medicine, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Westbrook College of Health Professions, and the Office of Research and Scholarship will allow administrators to further refine this plan in advance of the new and returning undergraduate and graduate students in fall 2020.

To review the UNE Onward plan in its entirety, please visit une.edu/onward.


Read this news in the Portland Press Herald, WMTW-TV, WABI-TV, and Saco Bay News.