COVID-19 Updates

Union Where You Are: Plans for 2020-21

Publication Date

Dear Union College Community,

I am pleased to share with you Union Where You Are: Plans for 2020-21. Last fall, when we adopted a new strategic plan that emphasizes being comfortable being uncomfortable, embracing necessary change, and developing every student to lead in times of uncertainty, we hardly imagined how prescient these words would become and how quickly we would realize our vision. With our strategic plan, a flexible framework for fall, and an extraordinary community commitment to safety, Union is well positioned to meet the challenges of today, and emerge even stronger.

Meeting the challenges of today will require the Union community to embrace necessary change and to commit to abiding by health and safety protocols for the protection of ourselves and our community. Next week, our region, the Capital Region, will enter Phase 4 of reopening. Soon thereafter we will submit our comprehensive safety plan, which addresses screening, surveillance, testing, quarantining, isolation, and the many precautions we must take to keep ourselves healthy. Having people on campus is not without risk. While we have increased the frequency and intensity with which buildings are cleaned, and have installed hand sanitizers and signage throughout campus, these precautions mean nothing without responsible behavior.

Choosing to be on campus this fall means agreeing to a Commitment to the Union Community whereby everyone – students, staff, and faculty – pledges to protecting one another with their behaviors and actions, and understands the consequences of not doing so. The only way for Union to thrive as a residential college this year is to take responsibility not only for our own actions, but also encourage proper behavior among those around us.

Union Where You Are provides a flexible, nimble framework that accommodates the many different situations members of our community face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Where possible, Union students, faculty and staff have choices--all without sacrificing academic rigor or excellence in delivery. Our planning committee made recommendations guided by public health considerations for Union and our surrounding communities, alignment with our strategic plan goals, and considerations for the short- and long-term financial sustainability of the College. For the past month, I have met daily with senior staff, and we’ve worked closely with faculty, student, and trustee committees to closely examine and consider these recommendations, and to develop the final plan.

We will continue to refine the plan and work out the many details over the coming weeks, but here are the highlights:

Union will welcome the Class of 2024 to campus in the fall. The Class of 2024 will no doubt be one of the most memorable classes in Union’s history, demonstrating courage and empathy perhaps like no other in recent times. They will experience a new Union, one that looks and feels different from fall of 2019, but they will quickly value being part of a close-knit community – one with dedicated faculty and staff encouraging them to pursue their academic and other interests, and with friendships that will last their lifetimes.

First-year students will have orientation on campus and attend classes in person, with the exception of those taught by faculty who have reason to teach remotely. Every first-year student will have a single room unless they opt for a double. This is not a New York state requirement, but an option we believe is important for safety and peace of mind.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors are also welcome to return to campus, and will have a combination of in-person, remote, or hybrid classes available to them. Housing will look different, too. Depending on the number of first-year students who select doubles, we will likely have more students living off campus, perhaps even in local hotels. Living off campus will require the same commitment to safety as those who live on campus. Protecting neighboring communities is just as important as protecting our campus community.

If students choose not to come back to campus in the fall, they can make progress toward their Union degrees by taking advantage of online courses that will be taught to residential students, as well as two exciting new curricular options:

  1. Minervas Online: Our world has become more complex, and the big questions we face are increasingly difficult to answer. Union's world-class faculty, from a variety of disciplines, have created Minervas Online, a set of interdisciplinary online courses designed to help students understand the complexity of large-scale challenges and develop solutions. More details are available at Minervas Online.
  2. Experiential Education: Opportunities for engagement abound within an election year and with rapid social and economic changes taking place in the U.S. and around the world as a result of this pandemic. We encourage students to immerse themselves in service, an internship, or other meaningful opportunities to engage and learn. Students will receive a Robert J. Moser ’99 Experiential Learning Award, modest funding to offset costs associated with the experience. These experiences will be supervised by a faculty member – reflection, assignments, and a final project or paper – and receive academic credit. More details are available at Experiential Education.

I know that I have given you a lot to think about. We have launched a new website,, which provides additional details as well as information about upcoming town halls and other ways to ask questions and learn more.

This process has made me prouder than ever to be part of the Union College community, a community that has thrived for 225 years, and has the vision, creativity and commitment necessary to emerge from current global and local challenges with a renewed sense of purpose and as an even stronger institution

As always, thank you for your partnership. I look forward to engaging with you soon.

Best regards,

David R. Harris
Union College