Community Conversations: Support for International Students

The provost and guests also respond to questions about the coming academic year.

Watch the July 8 Community Conversation with Provost Joseph Helble and COVID-19 task force co-chair Josh Keniston, vice president for institutional projects, and Elizabeth Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. 

Dartmouth has pledged support for international students in the face of guidance issued Monday by the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) prohibiting international students from remaining in the U.S. if their classes will be entirely online, Provost Joseph Helble said Wednesday during Community Conversations, a series of live webcasts about Dartmouth's operations during the pandemic.

In a statement issued today, Dartmouth said it had joined peer institutions in opposing the guidelines and was "actively engaged in identifying possible solutions for fall term instruction and housing, as informed by the potential impact of the SEVP guidance."

Helble and his guests, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith and Vice President for Institutional Projects Josh Keniston, discussed Dartmouth's plan to bring students back to campus this fall, as announced on June 29. During the hour-long conversation, moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson, the three fielded viewer questions regarding details about the coming academic year, only some of which could be answered at this point. Others will be answered in mid-August, as Dartmouth continues to monitor the progression of COVID-19.

To viewers' requests for a description of what campus life might look like when students return this fall, Helble said it most certainly will be different.

"It will be different on this campus. It will be different on every campus, and I think there's no way of avoiding that as we watch the progression of the disease, particularly over the past few months."

Those differences will include the enforcement of social-distancing standards and the requirement that students wear masks when they are in common spaces, said Helble, speaking from Starr Studio in Dartmouth Library's Baker-Berry Library.

He reiterated Dartmouth's commitment to protecting the health of students, faculty, and staff, and the Upper Valley community.

"We recognize the importance of providing opportunities and outlets for our students, but it is public health and public health guidance that is going to be the primary determining factor in what we are able to do," Helble said.

Other viewers had questions about the mandatory 14-day quarantine for students returning to campus, which Keniston, co-chair of Dartmouth's COVID-19 task force, said is a vital component of bringing students back to campus.

"The Upper Valley has had very low incidence of community transmission, and so welcoming thousands of students from across the country will be one of the critical areas where we need to make sure we're protecting our community and that we are identifying any potential cases that may have come from elsewhere," and isolating and taking care of them, said Keniston, speaking from his campus office.

The task force is spending a lot of time thinking about students' physical and mental health needs while in quarantine, he said, and while it's still unclear exactly what that 14-day period will entail, students should expect "to spend a fair amount of time in their rooms."

Helble thanked the Dartmouth students for their attention and engagement during the pandemic, and asked for their involvement as the institution continues to work through operational issues that affect them.

"We need your input and your partnership in working through many of these questions for fall term," he said. Kathryn Lively, dean of the College, has been meeting with student leaders throughout the past six weeks and will create an advisory group by the end of this week to solicit input from students in areas "where we have choices."

Jon Kull '88, dean of the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, has been meeting regularly with the graduate student council and will continue to meet with the members to address their questions. He will also seek graduate student input on issues relevant to the broader graduate student community, said Helble, adding that the respective deans will continue to answer questions for the Tuck School of Business, Thayer School of Engineering, Geisel School of Medicine, and other communities about program-specific issues.

Before registering for classes, students will know how the courses will be taught—entirely online, in person, or in a hybrid format, where they may have a class with students who are on-campus and others who are off campus, Smith said. As fall term approaches, faculty members, some of whom will be teaching remotely for the first time, will have support from many areas—the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, the Information, Technology and Consulting division, instructional designers, and from their departments.

With experience from two terms of remote teaching, including a number of lab courses, faculty will determine how to offer their classes this fall. That latitude is based on safety and pedagogy, Smith said.

As dean, her charge includes responsibility for matters related to faculty development, functioning, and well-being, she said. "I take that well-being very seriously."

Faculty members know best whether they should teach remotely or in person, and which mode best suits their course material, Smith said. When they are comfortable and feel safe, and are not anxious about teaching in front of a classroom, and they can design their courses in the way they feel is best, "you are going to have the best outcome."

Helble and his guests also addressed these topics:

  • Efforts to pack and return students' belongings were bolstered with the addition of 50 staff members to the project. Graduating seniors' belongings have been packed, and shipping will be completed by the end of this month. The remaining students' belongings will be packed and shipped by mid-August. Some students have arranged to pick up their belongings. As of last week, 60 percent of the undergraduate student rooms had been packed.
  • The stacks in Baker-Berry Library and the Sherman Art Library have opened to Dartmouth students, faculty and staff, and Rauner Special Collections Library is open by appointment to faculty, staff, and graduate students.
  • On-campus research labs continue to open, with greater access being granted in stages.
  • Access to telehealth services, including mental health resources, will likely continue in the fall.
  • Students and faculty will likely have limited access to Hood Museum of Art materials, but the performing arts venues are among the most challenging operations to reopen. Gym facilities fall somewhere in between.
  • Students living on campus will receive priority for access to on-campus services and facilities. The institution cannot guarantee the same access to students living off campus.
  • It is unlikely that off-campus international programs will be offered during the winter term; a decision will be announced before students need to register for fall classes. A decision will also be forthcoming on spring term 2021 off-campus programs.

Community Conversations is an online forum for Dartmouth community members to ask questions and learn from campus leaders about the institution's priorities, decisions, and operations during the pandemic. The live discussions, produced by Dartmouth's Media Production Group and the Office of Communications, air on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. The next webcast is set for July 22. Past episodes are available on the Community Conversations site, which also includes call-in numbers for those who want to listen to the show without video. Find out how to watch or listen to the live webcast.