President’s Update: Testing strategy, preparations for fall, congrats to August graduates

August 7, 2020

Dear Clemson Family:

The calendar has turned to August, and the entire university is pushing full-steam ahead for the start of the fall semester in less than two weeks. As you know, we are beginning the semester online, and we are fully committed to bringing our students back to our campuses starting Sept. 13 and resuming in-person instruction on Sept. 21.

Toward that end, we continue to make great progress on a number of fronts in preparation for welcoming our students back to all of our locations in a safe and responsible manner. I’d like to highlight just some of the important work and decisions that have been made since my last message.

COVID-19 Testing Strategy

Minimizing the number COVID-19 cases among our students and employees as they return to our campuses in large numbers is critical to successful in-person instruction and activities. To that end, we are testing people before they come to campus, and then we will continue testing students and employees throughout the academic year to monitor the prevalence of the disease.

While most of our employees continue to work remotely, we anticipate bringing many of them back to our campuses and facilities between now and mid-September. Every Clemson employee and contractor must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, or a positive COVID-19 antibody test, before returning to a Clemson location.

Additionally, all of our students who live or work on campus must provide a negative COVID-19 test within five days of returning to campus. Details on the types of tests that we will accept and how to share test results with the University have been provided to students.

Students who don’t live on campus and are not employed at the University will not be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to the beginning of on-campus instruction. The University also plans to test several hundred students a week starting Aug. 17 in order to provide a baseline for the prevalence of the disease in our area.

Testing, like many aspects of our work related to the pandemic, is enormously complex. We have relied heavily on the counsel of nationally recognized public health experts to provide the level of information we need to make educated decisions around the fall semester. These decisions are based on data and science. We are prepared to adjust our testing approach if warranted by new scientific advances.

Classroom Preparations

This upcoming academic year will be unlike anything I have experienced in my 32 years in higher education. Once we return to in-person instruction, classes will be delivered in a “hybrid” mode that will combine face-to-face and online instruction.

Fortunately, our outstanding faculty is up to this immense challenge. We used our experience from the spring to build a foundation for effective online course delivery and have used the past four months to upgrade our technology and provide faculty the necessary training and support so that we can deliver a robust, high-quality educational experience starting on the first day of classes.

Not only have we equipped more than 400 classroom spaces with state-of-the-art video and audio equipment that will allow us to live stream and record classroom lectures, we have reconfigured physical spaces across the campus to ensure the necessary physical distancing. In some cases, we have transformed non-traditional spaces into classroom space.

Knowing that first-time freshmen need substantial guidance at the beginning of their college experience, we are adding significantly more one-to-one advising, counseling and student-to-student communications before and during the first weeks of the semester.  Once in-person classes start on Sept.21, freshmen will have priority to be in face-to-face classes.

Outreach to Incoming Students

We realize the current situation has been especially hard on our incoming students and their families, and that the delayed start of in-person instruction has left many feeling anxious. To help ease that stress and reinforce our excitement toward the newest group of Tigers our Admissions, Student Affairs and University Relations teams have been working hard to engage our new students.

They have created and begun to distribute a wide range of virtual content aimed at providing our newest Tigers an introduction to the community, academics, organizations, activities and most importantly, each other.

Rebates on Fees

As result of the delayed start to in-person instruction, the University has credited a number of student fees, including housing, dining and the student activity fee to reflect the reduced amount of time they will be on campus this fall.

No adjustments have been made to tuition rates, which were previously frozen at last year’s levels. We have invested heavily in our online capabilities in recent months and are confident we can provide a high-quality learning experience from the first day of the fall semester.

Football Schedule

As many of our great Tigers fans probably already know, the ACC made the decision two weeks ago to create a 10-game conference football schedule with room for an additional non-conference game. Unfortunately, the SEC’s schedule for this year doesn’t provide the opportunity for the annual Clemson-South Carolina game to be played.

While we’re all deeply disappointed the Palmetto Bowl won’t be played for the first time in more than a century, I can’t wait for our season opener on Sept. 12 at Wake Forest and our first home game on Sept. 19. Details on seating capacity for home games and the game-day experience will be shared in the coming weeks.

All other fall sports schedules will be released soon.

Congratulations to our August Graduates and Commencement Ceremony Update

Under normal circumstances, I would have spent part of today shaking the hands of more than 1,000 August graduates. Commencement days are among my absolute favorite times of each academic year, and I can’t wait until we can get back to celebrating in person. To help celebrate our August graduates, we have created a special Class of 2020 web site that I encourage you to visit.

I couldn’t be prouder of our graduates who have completed their work in the middle of this pandemic and we remain committed to an on-campus celebration for our May and August grads later this fall.

Unfortunately, our original plans to hold a celebration in Memorial Stadium the weekend of Oct. 9-11 now needs to change as result of the revised ACC football schedule, which has us playing a home game that weekend. We just learned of this change yesterday and we are already exploring alternate dates for commencement. I expect a decision to be announced in the next week.

Healthy Clemson – United as Tigers

As I have said from the earliest days of the pandemic, the health and safety of our students, employees and communities is paramount. Every decision we have made – and will continue to make – is grounded in the knowledge that we have a responsibility to educate our students, but that we need to do so in the safest manner possible.

While the University will continue to do its part to protect the health of the Clemson Family, our ability to return to on-campus instruction truly is a shared responsibility. I strongly encourage everyone in the University community to do their part to keep themselves and those around them safe.

Wear a mask. Wash your hands frequently. Practice social distancing. Stay home if you’re sick. These simple actions can make all the difference.

As part of our work in this area, our University Relations team has created a broad awareness campaign under the banner of Healthy Clemson – United as Tigers, including a message from me, which I invite you to watch here.

I know that because we are United as Tigers we will get through this together and we will come out of the pandemic strong.

Congratulations again to our outstanding August graduates and my continued thanks to our world-class faculty and staff for all their hard work. I can’t wait to see everyone in a few weeks.

Go Tigers!

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