President’s Update: Important details on fall semester; special commencement ceremonies set for October

June 26, 2020

Dear Clemson Family:

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much about our way of life over the last several months, and Clemson is no exception. What hasn’t changed is the University’s commitment to getting back on campus. A return to on-campus instruction and in-person activities at all our locations, in a manner safeguarding the health and well-being of our entire University community, remains our singular focus.

Clemson’s faculty, staff and administrative leadership have worked daily for months to reimagine how we can continue to provide the world-class education, research and service that our students and state expect from us, even in the face of this unprecedented public health challenge.

The University’s approach is built on four foundational pillars that have guided our efforts to get back on campus. They are designed to inform the greater Clemson community and shape the behavior of our community’s members. They are:

  • A steadfast commitment to the health and safety of all members of the Clemson University community.
  • A return strategy built on the concept of stacking preventative measures to create the greatest possible protection against COVID-19 exposure and to limit its spread across the community.
  • The creation of a return plan both comprehensive and flexible, allowing the University to anticipate potential future challenges and providing the ability to adjust course quickly as circumstances dictate.
  • Awareness that the entire Clemson Family has a critical role to play in our successful return to on-campus and in-person activities. In order to take care of the Clemson community, our actions must be guided by concern for others. We must be “United as Tigers.”

I want to take the opportunity to update the Clemson community on some of the most important pieces of our return plan. Specifically, we have made critical decisions around face-coverings, testing and our academic plan that will provide our students, employees and communities with important safeguards against the spread of COVID-19.

In addition, I can’t stress enough how important it is for every member of our community to do their part to mitigate the spread of this disease, especially among those most vulnerable. Much of our work over the next several months will be focused on enforcing this social compact, or agreement, among members of the Clemson Family.

Face coverings to be mandatory in many instances

Cloth face coverings have been shown to be effective in preventing the spread of the virus, both from person to person and through contamination of contact surfaces, and as such the University is going to require all students and employees to wear face coverings in a number of circumstances while on University property.

Cloth face coverings are required:

  • While in University buildings, including housing and dining facilities.
  • During all University programs held in non-University buildings.
  • In outdoor spaces on campus where appropriate physical distancing cannot be guaranteed.
  • In all University vehicles and while using University transportation/mass transit.

Face coverings are not required:

  • When alone in private offices.
  • When alone in on-campus housing rooms.
  • When not in close contact with another person, such as walking alone outside.

The University has purchased 70,000 reusable cloth face coverings, and each student, faculty and staff member will receive two coverings upon return to campus or other University locations.

COVID-19 testing to be instituted to monitor spread of COVID-19

In an effort to provide initial data on positive cases in our population, and to minimize exposure on campus by identifying and isolating individuals prior to their arrival on campus, the University will require all students and employees to be tested for COVID-19 virus and, where possible, receive serologic testing for disease antibodies, prior to their arrival on campus in the fall.

Anyone who works for, lives at or is enrolled in a Clemson University program or facility must secure a negative COVID-19 test result within five days of returning to campus or other University location for the Fall semester. Those who test positive will be required to self-isolate for 10 days before returning to a Clemson location. Details on testing locations and how to report tests will be provided in the near future.

Once the academic year begins, the University will conduct voluntary random-sample testing of students and employees on a regular basis to track prevalence and spread of the disease in the University community.

No changes to academic calendar; classroom modifications underway

As of now, no changes have been made to the published Fall academic calendar, but all instructors have been asked to prepare to pivot to entirely online learning should the circumstances dictate.

In particular, we will closely monitor the progression of COVID-19 to determine whether a move to online instruction and final exams is necessary following the Thanksgiving holiday.

We are preparing to offer mainly in-class learning this year with accommodations being made for proper physical distancing. Online delivery options will be available for most every class. Details include:

  • The University’s goal is for at least 75 percent of all courses to have some class periods dedicated to in-person interactions among instructors and students.
  • All classes with in-person components will also be blended with online components.
  • Cameras and microphones will be installed in more than 400 classrooms to allow for live video streaming and recorded delivery of instruction.
  • Classroom layouts are being adjusted to allow a minimum of 6 feet of physical distancing between individuals.

Our success starts with each of us

Collective action will determine the success of the University’s plan for in-person instruction and a genuine Clemson experience for the Fall semester. Success requires each of us as members of the Clemson Family to act as responsible individuals and invested partners.

We have launched the Healthy Clemson: United as Tigers awareness campaign, to guide and inform key personal responsibility initiatives as they apply to a wide range of personal activities for students, faculty and staff, including:

  • Frequent handwashing.
  • Physical distancing.
  • Responsible management of living spaces.
  • Limiting group sizes.
  • Participating in self-assessments.
  • Early self-referral to Redfern and Sullivan Center.
  • Recommended participation in contact tracing.

Family takes care of family, and we need all of our students, faculty and staff to embrace the principle of being “All In” this together. That means recognizing that actions and behaviors taken by individuals will have an impact on the larger community.

Commencement update for May and August 2020 graduates

I pledged to the Class of 2020 that we would hold in-person commencement ceremonies on campus once it was safe to do so in order to celebrate the achievements of our students in a manner they deserve.

While we still don’t have every detail finalized, I am pleased to provide an update today on our plans to celebrate both our May and August 2020 graduating classes.

First, I want to share that we have made the decision to postpone our traditional August graduation ceremony so that we can focus our energies on a safe on-time start to the fall semester.

Moving our August commencement to later in the year also gives us additional time to create a special experience for this very special group of graduates.

Given that change, we are now planning to hold on-campus commencement ceremonies for our May and August 2020 graduates the weekend of October 9-11.

We have received many suggestions on how to make commencement memorable for the Class of 2020, and we’re hard at work to do just that. More details about the October commencement exercises will be provided in the coming weeks. For now, please consider this to be your “save the date” invitation and know that we are very excited to welcome our newest graduates back to campus in October.

As you can see, the situation around future University operations remains extremely fluid. Be assured, however, that our staff and faculty remain committed to providing a great, and safe, experience for our students in the upcoming academic year.

Being United as Tigers when it comes to battling the pandemic gives us the best possible chance of enjoying a successful and safe academic year. I am confident that the Clemson Family will rise to the occasion and look forward to sharing more details of our return plan with you very soon.

In the meantime, stay safe – and Go Tigers!

Clemson University's 15th president, James P. Clements