We know this is a challenging season for many members of our community, as it is for our nation and the world. And yet at ACU, we know that God is in control – nothing that has happened or will happen is a surprise to Him. He holds our future, His promises are true, and His plans for us are good!
In light of the global pandemic, ACU’s mission of educating Bible-believing Christian leaders to transform culture with truth is needed now more than ever. The chaos and panic in our nation during the spring and summer has exposed again the need for calm, trustworthy, and Spirit-filled leadership. For those reasons and more, we are anticipating ACU’s fall semester with great enthusiasm!
ACU’s future is one of continued growth and influence for Christ. And – despite the crisis of the moment – we are sure the upcoming academic year will be the most significant and impactful time in this University’s history. In fact, we are expecting our largest incoming class and largest enrollment in ACU’s six-decade history this fall!
Trusting God and having hope for the future does not mean we ignore challenging circumstances or fail to plan for the new environment we are facing. Since the early stages of the pandemic, ACU’s leadership has been working, planning and praying for strategies that will enable us to maximize health and safety while continuing to serve students.
We also want to provide clarity to our community as we begin implementing these strategies this summer, leading into the fall.
Plans for the Fall Semester 2020
To start, we want to reiterate that ACU expects to be in full operation on campus this fall. We are looking forward to the safe resumption of face-to-face classes, along with extracurricular and athletic activities subject to new health and safety guidelines.
ACU’s unique education is designed to occur in community — where students can build relationships with fellow students, along with faculty, staff, and coaches. All of our academic and athletic programs, as well as our residential and foodservice offerings, are expected to be fully operating when classes resume on Monday, August 24.
NAIA varsity athletic competition is scheduled and expected to resume in the fall. Even if national restrictions delay or reduce the length of the coming seasons, ACU varsity student-athletes will continue to train, practice, engage in intra-squad competition, and be ready to compete locally or regionally as soon and as often as intercollegiate competition is allowed, and while following national and conference approved health and safety guidelines.
One encouraging sign about ACU’s ability to safely operate in the fall is the success we have had — using enhanced health and safety guidelines — during our summer semester. In addition to online classes, ACU has been operating a face-to-face summer class on campus with more than 30 students, continuing without interruption despite an increase in confirmed COVID cases in Arizona.
Students are socially distanced in a large auditorium, are wearing facemasks, have access to hand sanitizer, and are following directives to quarantine when necessary if they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus. In those cases, our enhanced technical capacity in the classroom enables students to continue to participate with classmates remotely in real time until they can return to physical classes.
At the same time, we have safely facilitated optional individual and team member athletic workouts on campus throughout the summer, again following best practices with masks, social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing.
As you will recall, even when we went to remote instruction after spring break, we did not ask students who lived on campus to leave. The amenities on campus, including food service, the library and athletic facilities, remained available for the many students who stayed.
With the benefit of several months of experience dealing with the virus, and with the time and funding we have committed to enhance our technological capacity on campus, we are confident we can continue to operate our campus classrooms in combination with synchronous remote learning throughout the fall, without needing to return to fully remote instruction.
Unlike the spring semester, the classroom technology upgrades we have made will enable us to allow students who temporarily attend remotely to participate in real time with their classmates during regularly scheduled class periods. In this way, we will be able to serve and continue to educate any students who are exposed or who become sick during the semester while they are unable to be physically present in class.
We know the virus will be with us for a while without a vaccine, and we must learn how to function in this new environment. Part of learning to operate under these new circumstances is what we have been doing this summer – learning to follow all health guidelines and workplace recommendations, taking appropriate precautions, tracing contacts when there is a positive test result, requiring self-quarantine after exposure, etc. — and still continuing to educate and serve students and thereby fulfill ACU’s vital mission.
Despite the pandemic, life and education should and must go on.
At ACU, we are confident we will be able to operate our face-to-face classes throughout the upcoming academic year, especially in light of the following important considerations:
- ACU’s student population is less than 1,000 students, while our campus was built to accommodate more than 2,000 students, which ensures our ability to practice physical distancing.
- Our residence halls, most of which have rooms that open to the outdoors, are served by individual air handlers and are more similar in size and structure to apartment buildings than to traditional university dormitories. Consequently, ACU should be one of the safer campuses in the country with respect to protecting students from spreading this type of infectious disease.
- The medical community knows much more about this virus today than in early March, including the fact that while this disease is highly infectious, college-age students are statistically very unlikely to suffer serious health consequences unless they have another significant underlying medical condition.
- Medical professionals have grown in their knowledge of and ability to fight the virus, significantly reducing the mortality rate in those infected. Current CDC data reveals a reduction in the mortality rate by a factor of ten since April. Despite an increase in cases nationally, the number of deaths from COVID continues to decline. In Arizona, despite a large increase in the number of confirmed cases, the number of daily deaths from COVID has remained mostly flat for months.
- The latest CDC health data indicates the mortality rate of COVID for those under 55 years of age is very similar to the mortality rate for the seasonal flu. And for college-age students, it is even less, just 0.1%.
Of course, we recognize that there are those in the ACU community – faculty, staff, and students with an underlying medical condition – who are at greater risk, and so we will follow CDC recommendations to mitigate the risk to the most vulnerable in our community. As such, we want to assure you that we take the virus very seriously and are committed to doing all we can to protect the health and safety of our community and thwart the spread of the disease. To that end, we are taking the following additional steps:
- Working with our food service and facilities partner Sodexo, we have enhanced cleaning and safety protocols for classrooms, library, dining halls, athletic facilities and other common areas, along with residence halls.
- We will continue to remind our community to stay in their rooms or at home when sick, to wash hands regularly, and frequently use the hand sanitizers installed around campus.
- All students, faculty, and staff will be asked to monitor their health regularly and check their temperature.
- The wearing of masks in class, chapel, and common areas is likely to be required this fall, although we will make a final decision later in July when we see where things stand with community spread.
- Classes are being structured to ensure physical distancing is maintained, and we have the technology now to implement hybrid face-to-face/virtual classrooms for those classes where we cannot maintain physical distancing. These classrooms enable students who are viewing remotely to see their classmates and participate in classroom instruction in real-time.
- An isolated building of the campus hotel has been designated for use as a quarantine residence hall for students showing COVID-19 signs or who have tested positive.
- Greg Koury, M.D., along with his wife, registered nurse Lori Koury, will be operating their family medical practice on ACU’s campus this fall, enabling us to provide immediate medical assistance if any COVID-19 cases develop here.
- Physical distancing will be utilized in how dining services are provided.
- Temperature-taking and self-monitoring will be used as a prerequisite for participation in some extracurricular and athletic activities, use of University workout facilities, or to attend chapel or athletic events.
- We will work to accommodate and protect any students, staff, or faculty who are in a higher risk category for consequences from COVID-19.
- Our counseling center, which operated virtually during the spring, will be operating both virtual and face-to-face visits to assist with any mental health issues.
- When there are occurrences of COVID-19 on campus – which is to be expected — we have procedures in place to work with health officials to isolate, quarantine, and track contacts for anyone who becomes sick.
Please continue to pray for an end to the spread of this virus, for a vaccine to be developed quickly, and for healing and comfort for all those affected.
We hope this information is helpful to our community. We also hope it will be reassuring to students, prospective students, and parents regarding ACU’s commitment to health and safety and our commitment to resuming full university activities for the entire 2020-21 academic year.
Yours for equipping Christian leaders,