College Releases Details for Three Semesters of In-Person Classes


Courtesy of the Office of Communications

A still image from the College’s video “A Dozen Thorny Questions on Covid-19 and Fall Opening.” President Carmen Twillie Ambar and Vice President for Communications Ben Jones, OC ’96, social distance in Dye Lecture Hall and discuss the three-semester plan.

Information about changes to housing, dining, student activities, and campus social life was sent in an email to students, faculty, and staff last Wednesday, accompanied by a community agreement for on-campus enrollment. This year the College will adopt a three-semester model and enroll a limited student body in the fall, spring, and summer. The goal of this plan is to “de-densify” campus, allowing students to live in single rooms, practice social distancing in classes, and limit the potential spread of COVID-19. 

“We believe we have devised an innovative and responsible approach for students, faculty and staff that allows us to remain true to the Oberlin campus experience and keeps our community safe,” President Carmen Twillie Ambar wrote in a June 10 email to students. “We know this [is] a new way of being on our campus, but the health of our community is another way that we can demonstrate care.”

Following the three-semester plan, first- and fourth-year College students will attend in the fall and spring, second-years in the fall and summer, and third-years in the spring and summer. Conservatory, double-degree, and international students will enroll in the fall and spring semesters. The plan also includes flexible Winter Term and career-development opportunities for second- and third-year students for the semesters they are off-campus. Students have the opportunity to appeal to enroll in a semester other than the ones they were assigned by July 20. 

“The Arts & Sciences faculty discussed several options for conducting the 2020-21 academic year, including the remote-only option, the traditional fully enrolled two semester in-person option, and the ‘de-densified’ three-term option,” Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Kamitsuka wrote in an email to the Review. “Balancing health considerations and the desire for educational excellence, the faculty preferred by a significant margin the three-term option.”

The College has canceled both the fall and spring breaks to reduce the risks associated with travel. Students will return home for Thanksgiving break on November 25 and finish classes, reading period, and exams remotely. On-campus classes for the spring semester will resume in early January and finish in April. Regulations for on-campus activity are detailed on the College’s new ObieSafe website. 

“Our faculty, academic leaders, administrators, and staff have been working tremendous hours for weeks, collaborating to prepare a dynamic and flexible educational experience that allows those in high-risk groups … to participate without feeling they are putting themselves at risk,” Ambar wrote in her June 10 email. “We are reinventing our residential and classroom facilities and food services, with public health and safety at the forefront of our thinking.”

The College is partnering with Mercy Allen Hospital and the private firm Tempus to administer monthly COVID-19 tests to students, faculty, and staff. Individuals will also be tasked with the daily monitoring of their temperature and potential symptoms of COVID-19. 

International students who cannot travel to the U.S. for the fall semester can apply for remote status using instructions that were emailed by the College; immunocompromised students can do the same through the Disability Resources portal on the College’s website.

In a July 8 email to students, faculty, and staff, the College announced that competitive sports would be suspended in the fall due to health and safety concerns. 


ObieSafe and the Community Agreement

The College’s community agreement requires students to follow the ObieSafe protocols that were developed in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. These protocols are detailed on the website.

Students will be tested for COVID-19 the day they arrive on campus, and are expected to quarantine in their assigned room until receiving their test results within 48 hours. College staff will deliver students meals from Campus Dining Services during the quarantine period. 

Students will be required to log their temperatures and complete a symptom assessment checklist each morning through the Full Measure app. If a student runs a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or is experiencing any symptoms, they will be required to remain in their room and call Student Health Services. 

A quarter of all students, faculty, and staff will be tested every week, so that each individual is tested once a month. Overall test results will be reported weekly in the ObieSafe newsletter. Students will be charged a testing fee for the semester, the cost of which has not yet been finalized.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they will be moved to a room in the Hotel at Oberlin — which will be closed to business this year — where they will quarantine and conduct their studies remotely. The student will be cleared from isolation when 14 days have passed since their last positive test, they haven’t had a fever for the past 72 hours, and they no longer display respiratory symptoms. 

Students who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 but have tested negative will be quarantined in their regular housing for 14 days from the time of their exposure. 

All students will be issued five reusable masks, which they are expected to wear everywhere except in a private bedroom with the door closed. Following Ohio state guidelines, co-curricular and in-person gatherings are limited to ten people or the number of students who can physically distance in a given space, whichever is fewer.

College-sponsored travel outside of Oberlin is suspended, including fall study away programs. Curricular and co-curricular activities will be limited to on-campus locations. Activities and sports that don’t allow for physical distancing have been suspended. Parties will not be permitted for students living on- or off-campus. 

“If you are hosting an intimate partner in your room, please follow all guidelines for affirmative consent in the context of COVID-19 and utilize self-isolation and other strategies to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to others,” the ObieSafe website reads. 

The website has also laid out other regulations for student activities, including protests. 

“Protests … will only be permitted out-of-doors and will be subject to the same directives and restrictions outlined in ObieSafe and College Rules and Regulations,” the ObieSafe website reads. “All such events must require that all participants wear masks and maintain physical distancing.”

According to the Community Agreement, “serious disregard” for ObieSafe protocols, policies, and instructions may result in disciplinary action, which can include immediate dismissal from Oberlin without a refund. 

Oberlin is also undergoing facilities changes such as the installation of plexiglass barriers, sanitation stations, and maximum occupancy postings. Frequent cleaning protocols will be applied across campus, and HVAC systems will be adjusted to increase air flow within buildings. Students will only have swipe access to the dormitory that they live in.



Although students registered for fall 2020 classes last spring, faculty have created a new course catalog under the three-semester plan for the entire academic year, which was made available to students last Wednesday. Students will register for all of their 2020-21 courses this August to help ensure that they can meet their curricular requirements. Students can only take Oberlin College classes for credit during their designated semesters of enrollment. 

According to the College’s Educational Plans and Policies Committee guidelines, 40 percent of this year’s courses will be conducted primarily in-person, another 42 percent will be designated as hybrid classes that will meet in-person and online, and the remaining 18 percent of courses will be conducted entirely over Zoom. All in-person classes must be held in classrooms that allow for six feet of space between individual faculty and students.

“We anticipate shifting many music-academic classes (music theory, musicology, etc.) online, to open up classroom and instructional space for ensemble coaching, private instruction, and rehearsal,” Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen wrote in an email to the Review. “The way that students might go about fulfilling [performance] requirements might be different. For example, because of social-distancing requirements, it may not be possible for students to rehearse and perform with a full-size symphony orchestra for a period of time.” 


Housing and Dining

Every student will be assigned a single-occupancy room to ensure that individuals can practice social distancing, with Residential Education staff assigning rooms based on student preferences in lieu of the typical lottery self-selection process. Housing assignments will be based on seniority and staff will aim to place students adjacent to individuals they request to live near, according to Assistant Dean and Director of Residential Education Andy Sadouskas’s July 8 email to fall students. Housing assignments will be released by the third week of July. 

Students who are not enrolled in consecutive terms will be assigned to different rooms for each of their semesters in residence. The College will continue to offer village and off-campus housing to students. Sadouskas stated that the College may need to assist some students in finding off-campus housing if there are not enough on-campus rooms for all returning students. 

Oberlin Student Cooperative Association operations have been suspended for the 2020-21 school year due to safety concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19. The College will operate the residence halls that OSCA usually occupies, assuming responsibility for the custodial work that OSCA members contributed.

The College has expanded their dining halls and offerings to de-densify campus and to accommodate students who ate in OSCA due to dietary restrictions. The College will continue to operate Stevenson Dining Hall, DeCafé, Lord-Saunders Dining Hall, the Rathskeller, Azariah’s Cafe, and the SkyBar. In addition, they will operate three dining halls that are typically co-op kitchens: Fairchild Dining Hall, a kosher kitchen in Talcott Dining Hall, and an allergen-sensitive kitchen in Harkness Dining Hall. 

“While we are disappointed that OSCA will not function as usual next semester, we acknowledge the necessity of this decision to ensure the longevity of OSCA,” read a joint statement by OSCA and College leadership released on June 10. “Both parties have committed to continuing negotiations, as circumstances evolve, regarding the resumption of OSCA activity as soon as it is possible to do so safely as well as long-term agreements to ensure OSCA’s ability to thrive into the future.”

Read more about the College’s decision to outsource 108 unionized custodial and dining positions here.


Tuition and College Deficits 

The College has stated that it will not be offering a tuition refund or discount if the College shifts to remote learning ahead of Thanksgiving break. 

“The College reserves the right to move to remote instruction as required for the health and safety of the community,” the Oberlin Admissions & Aid website reads. “Some or all instruction for all or part of the 2020-2021 academic year may be delivered remotely. Tuition and mandatory fees have been set regardless of the method of instruction and will not be refunded in the event instruction occurs remotely for any part of the Academic Year.”

Tuition rose by approximately three percent this academic year, from $55,976 in 2019-2020 to $57,654 for 2020-21 — a percent increase that is consistent with national averages for private colleges. 

According to Vice President for Finance and Administration Rebecca Vazquez Skillings, an entirely remote campus experience would produce deficits of approximately $70 million for the College. With the three-semester model, the College projects a total budget deficit of $44.7 million. This deficit will be covered in part by an extraordinary withdrawal of 8 percent from the endowment for a total of over $70 million. The College typically withdraws 4.5 percent from the endowment for approximately $40 million in revenue.

The College also plans to cut about $20 million from the upcoming year’s operating budget. To achieve this, the Board of Trustees approved a series of one-time cuts to save $13.5 million. This is in addition to the $6.8 million in reductions that the College had previously planned through One Oberlin implementation.


International Students

International students are expected to enroll in the fall and spring semesters regardless of their class year in order to maintain their immigration status. However, many international students may be unable to return to campus for the fall semester. 

“Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it’s hard to determine exactly when travel restrictions will be lifted or embassies will resume normal operations,” Assistant Dean of Students and International Student Resource Center Director Josh Whitson wrote in an email to the Review. “Many students have had flights canceled or previously scheduled visa appointments delayed. We are working with students individually to review options and make sure they are being supported during these challenging times.”

International students who cannot return to Oberlin can enroll in a remote fall semester or may try to attend the spring and summer semesters. 

Guidance from the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program released on July 6 — which has since been revoked — would have jeopardized international students’ ability to remain in the U.S. while taking a fully online course load. According to Whitson, it was unclear whether on-campus international students would have been able to remain in the country after November 25, when Oberlin students are scheduled to finish the fall semester remotely. This federal guidance was rescinded following the threat of several lawsuits. 



President Ambar and Associate Vice President for Athletics Advancement and Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education Natalie Winkelfoos announced the suspension of fall competitive sports in an email to students, faculty, and staff on July 8. 

“Health and safety brought us to this decision, and the responsibility that we feel for the entire campus community,” Winkelfoos said. 

The College chose to announce the suspension of fall athletics prior to the North Coast Athletic Conference announcement, so that students could take the College’s decision into account when considering enrollment for the 2020-21 academic year. 

“This has been a difficult decision,” the July 8 email read. “As former competitive athletes, we realize there is nothing that can replicate the joy of competition. But, we also know this is the right decision. We have been looking at the national trends and watching as one positive COVID-19 case is requiring an entire team to be quarantined for 14 days. It seemed inevitable that if we moved forward with athletics this fall, most if not all of our student-athletes would have cancelled games, shortened seasons and unsatisfactory outcomes.” 

Without competitions, student-athletes will not lose one of their limited years of eligibility for college athletics, according to Winkelfoos. She also stated that the gym will reopen in the fall and that YeoFit classes will still be offered online and in-person.


Students whose questions are not addressed in the College’s FAQ can direct their messages to [email protected]. Students with Conservatory related questions should refer to the Conservatory’s FAQ or contact the Conservatory Dean’s Office at [email protected].