Editorial: Tufts must communicate with students about omicron on campus and abroad

The Academic Quad is pictured on April 20. Ava Iannuccillo / The Tufts Daily
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With omicron variant cases rising around the world — straining hospitals, canceling flights and altering colleges’ plans for returns to campus — Tufts students remain unsure as to what their spring semester will look like. After moving finals online following Dec. 17, Tufts has left students anxious as to what to expect this spring. 

Other colleges have made announcements for how they plan to conduct classes in January. Harvard has moved its Wintersession — set to begin on Jan. 14 — online; Columbia has moved the first two weeks of its spring semester online; Yale has delayed its start date and made classes virtual for the first two weeks of instruction; and Duke has moved its classes — originally planned to begin on Jan. 5 — online through at least Jan. 8. Despite these announcements, some Boston-area schools, like Northeastern, have committed to an in-person start to the spring 2022 semester.

Tufts students have not received nearly enough guidance from university administrators on what to expect this spring. In a statement to The Boston Herald, a university spokesperson said that Tufts is “still in the process of analyzing data and considering our options.” This statement came after university officials reported to the Tufts community on Dec. 16 that they anticipate “being fully in person for the spring semester.” While the world is still struggling to understand omicron, with new data on its spread and severity being released almost daily, time is of the essence for students preparing to board flights — to Tufts and abroad.

While many of the schools which have made announcements about the modality of instruction for the spring semester have earlier starts than Tufts, where classes are set to begin in person on Jan. 19, study abroad students — many of whom start earlier — remain in limbo.

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Many students planning to study abroad depart in the first week of January, and thus deserve immediate insight into plans for the semester. Tufts has not canceled any programs amid concerns of the omicron variant, unlike Princeton, which canceled most spring 2022 study abroad programs due to the rise in COVID-19 cases globally, including those in France and the United Kingdom — two popular destinations for Tufts students studying abroad this spring.

Tufts-in-Paris programming begins on Jan. 5, yet the U.S. Department of State placed France on a “level four” travel advisory: do not travel. Classes for Tufts-in-London begin as early as Jan. 10, yet the United Kingdom is also on a “level four” travel advisory. Further, London is currently the epicenter of the omicron variant, with an estimated one in 10 Londoners being infected with COVID-19 as of Dec. 19. With the unprecedented levels of COVID-19 transmission present in the destinations of many Tufts students studying abroad this semester, Tufts has remained silent.

Despite regular communication from the Tufts Office of Global Education and some Tufts programs to students planning to study abroad provided throughout the fall semester, the Office of Global Education has not sent any communication to all students studying abroad in the spring since Dec. 21. The email sent by university administrators affirmed that Tufts is still planning to move forward with both Tufts and external study abroad programs for the spring, though they cautioned students to expect a mix of in-person and virtual classes. Amid the pandemic presenting unforeseen challenges to international travel, the Office of Global Education has been closed and has stated it will not answer inquiries between Dec. 23 and Jan. 4 — despite many students preparing to depart for their abroad programs by Jan. 4. For students studying at Tufts-in-London, the office has been closed from Dec. 18 and will remain so until Jan. 5, with an email sent to students on Dec. 17 noting that the office “will not be available to answer questions or give information during that time.” Tufts can hardly expect students to maintain a “flexible and adaptable attitude” while administrators are unavailable to address confusion and anxieties surrounding study abroad.

Unprecedented times require unprecedented levels of communication and guidance from the university, but neither students studying abroad nor those studying on the Medford/Somerville campus have received the appropriate information and guidance. Tufts must provide study abroad students with information in a timely manner so they may make accommodations, including canceling flights, registering for classes at Tufts and finding housing.

And, of course, so too do Tufts students studying on the Medford/Somerville campus deserve insight into what the spring 2022 semester will look like. This new variant raises questions that must be answered immediately. Will we need to de-densify campus and social distance again, due to omicron’s highly transmissible nature? Will classes shift online? What will isolation look like this spring, particularly given changes in CDC guidance that reduce the recommended isolation time for infected individuals? These questions cannot be left unanswered. The Tufts administration owes it to its students to make a decision and provide information on what the spring semester will look like.

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