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A year ago, the Purdue University community was grappling with whether and how to safely offer 45,000 students an in-person learning experience for the 2020-21 academic year during the most challenging global health crisis in a century. With hope now on the horizon in the global battle against COVID-19, Purdue is embarking on a careful journey back to normal operations — and what face-toface, residential education will look like for faculty, staff and, most importantly, Boilermaker students.

Purdue’s Medical Advisory Team continues to study closely the state of the pandemic, vaccine deployment, virus variants, levels of herd immunity, any new science on mitigation practices and other factors.

For summer session 2021, Purdue has restarted select academic programs and updating various Protect Purdue protocols and guidelines, effective May 9. Returning programs include Summer Start, Early Start, Summer College for High School Students and the Computer Science Bridge Program. Approximately 10,000 students are taking in-person courses this summer.

Plans for the Fall 2021 semester include a return to a more typical fully in-person residential experience as a majority of the Purdue community becomes vaccinated against COVID-19, with a commitment to improving further the classroom and learning experience, the testing and isolation process, remote work experience and more.

By pulling together, Purdue has taken the thousands of small steps each day to make the learning, discovery and engagement mission of the University as safe as possible to protect members of the Purdue community.

And it will be another historic semester this fall for Purdue, when 10,000 first-time students begin the 2021-22 academic year as Boilermakers, a 12% enrollment increase over last year’s largest-ever freshman class.

As we look optimistically to a fully in-person residential experience for the Fall 2021 semester, we will rely on the very best science and public health guidance available and build upon lessons learned from our experiences and those of our peers. The ultimate goal is to keep the Purdue community safe while delivering on our teaching, research and engagement missions.

JAY AKRIDGE

Provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity

2020 Hindsight: Lessons Learned

The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything this University has ever faced. With rapidly evolving scientific understanding of the coronavirus and the disease it causes, health leaders around the world and at Purdue have had to adapt protocols over the course of the year to maintain operations. In that way, the Protect Purdue effort was admittedly imperfect and, only with the benefit of hindsight, are we able to identify key lessons learned for moving forward in a post-COVID experience.

For example, while the installation of miles of plexiglass barriers in classrooms might have sounded impressive, it appears that investment didn’t translate measurably into lowering chances of viral spread much, if at all, given the ample social distancing and masking measures in place.

Similarly, daily disinfecting of thousands of counters, door handles and surfaces of all kinds may have yielded only limited benefits, now that we know the virus transmits predominately through the air, rather than on surfaces. The time and expense to increase the space between residence hall beds also showed no evidence of reducing roommate-to-roommate spread.

On the other hand, investments in enhancing ventilation systems and air purification proved their worth and should have been even greater.

“With the benefit of data later, we probably could have done a few things differently. But at the time, we thought we had to do everything we could to keep our students safe and yet honor our obligation to them not to interrupt their Purdue Education. As things have gotten so much better, so much safer, they’ve become more complicated — which restrictions to moderate or let go altogether, and what order and on what timing.”

Mitch Daniels
President