Letter To Students

July 1, 2020

Dear Students,

I hope this note finds you safe, healthy, and enjoying the summer.  I’m writing to provide you with the latest updates relative to the fall 2020 semester at Eastman.  While there are still many details to be worked out, plans for the fall are becoming clearer.

On Friday, June 26, Rochester and the Finger Lakes Region entered Phase 4 of New York State’s reopening plan.  While this is the final phase of the reopening process for the state, many operating and activity restrictions remain in place.  As communicated previously, the University of Rochester’s plans for the fall semester are tentative until approved by New York State.  However, given the recent release of state-wide guidelines, the University has submitted a formal “Restart Plan” to the state for approval.  It is our hope that the plan will be approved as submitted and as outlined below.  In addition, you should have received the first edition of “Rochester Restart,” an e-newsletter that will provide a weekly update on plans for the fall semester.  At Eastman, several requirements must be satisfied by the University of Rochester internal approval in order for us to reopen our campus facilities, which we anticipate doing on or around July 20.  For those of you currently in Rochester, please understand that the Eastman campus continues to be closed until further notice, with the exception of limited hours at the Sibley Music Library.

We are very much looking forward to having our students back at Eastman.  Over the past few months campus leaders, staff, and faculty have been busy planning for a safe and productive fall semester.  To create the best possible experience for all our students, there will be changes to how some courses will be offered, housing, and campus life in general to meet New York State guidelines and public health best practices.  While there is still much to accomplish, be assured that we will be ready to welcome our student community whether you will be joining us on-campus or remotely.

Academic Schedule

If approved by the state, the fall semester will begin in Rochester on Wednesday, August 26.  In order to complete the required number of days for the fall semester (a requirement of accreditation and financial aid regulations) we will:

  1. eliminate Fall Break;
  2. complete the on-campus instructional portion of fall semester on November 25 before Thanksgiving; and
  3. everyone will finish the semester online with 2 weeks of course-related activity after Thanksgiving, including exams.

Move-in and Residential Life

For those living in on-campus housing, move-in will be a staggered process.  Upon arrival in Rochester, we will conduct COVID-19 testing for students living on campus, prioritizing those with double room assignments. The move-in and testing plans are still being finalized and will be shared as soon as possible to allow you to plan your travel to campus.

The Student Living Center will be less densely populated than in the past, as generally we plan to have fewer students in double rooms and all triple room assignments have been eliminated.  We will honor all housing contracts but do plan to release a small number of students from the dorm later this summer to make the necessary adjustments to occupancy rates.  Information about these releases will be communicated beginning July 15.

Safety and Operations

Physical distancing will be practiced throughout the University facilities.  All students, staff, and faculty members will be required to take a daily health screening using the online tool, Dr. Chatbot, to help us track symptoms and the possible spread of COVID-19.  Information from the tool feeds to University Health Services, and their staff will follow up with anyone who reports symptoms. The University will continue to reserve quarantine and isolation space for suspected or confirmed virus carriers in campus housing on the River Campus, as has been the practice since mid-March.  This approach is more conservative than the guidance put out by the state in order to prioritize the health and safety of our community. 

All individuals on campus will be expected to respect social distancing measures of at least 6 feet. In addition, when in the presence of others, all member of the campus community will also be required to wear masks.  The only exceptions will be when a person is eating or when outside and able to maintain more than 6 feet of social distancing. 

Plans for student activities are being developed with the health, safety, and well-being of our community guiding our decisions.

Academic and Performance Study

Given the need for social distancing, Eastman classrooms, rehearsal rooms, and scheduling will be prioritized for performance instruction, including in-person applied lessons, chamber music, jazz performance workshops, and ensemble rehearsals.  Academic courses will be taught largely in an online, asynchronous format to allow for maximum flexibility of student schedules.

As opposed to large orchestras, wind ensembles, and choirs, the Conducting and Ensemble department faculty members have been planning programs for smaller chamber orchestras, wind, and vocal ensembles in which social distancing can be maximized.  Eastman Opera Theatre will be announcing plans for productions that also limit the number of performers who will rehearse together or be on stage simultaneously. 

Dr. Ralph Manchester, Director of University Health Services, is also the immediate Past-President of the Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA).  We are working closely with Dr. Manchester to develop plans that allow for safe music-making, which will be communicated as soon as they are finalized.  Our safety protocols will involve, but are not limited to, a combination of physical distancing, mask wearing, physical barriers such as plastic shields, and enhanced sanitation protocols.  Whenever possible, we plan for rehearsal spaces and practice rooms to be scheduled in advance and limited to a specific population as to limit physical contact in rooms and hallways.

We understand that some students will be unable to return to campus and/or attend class in-person due to travel restrictions or health concerns.  We intend for all classes, lessons, and ensembles to have a fully-online option so that students can still complete their fall semester coursework without having to attend in person if they so desire.


Coinciding with this message to our students, Eastman has launched the new website Preparing for the Fall 2020 Semester.  On it, you will find a searchable FAQ for answers to questions we have already received, as well as an archive of all communications related to the fall semester.  As we gain greater clarity about the fall semester with each passing day, and as decisions are made about specific operations, we will post the latest information on the website.  Please check it frequently, as we anticipate ongoing updates and additions throughout the summer.


I want to offer my sincere appreciation to all of our students and your families for your patience and understanding as we develop plans for the fall semester.  I can understand the anxiousness that can exist in the absence of clarity, and I assure you that a great many people are working very hard to address a staggering myriad of details.  While our plans will continue to develop and may shift as we receive additional guidance from New York State and our public health experts, the University is proceeding with an abundance of caution to reduce the potential risk as much as possible for our students, staff, and faculty. 

Friends, the coming fall semester will be very different than any experienced previously. A diverse, vibrant residential college life is a hallmark of the Eastman experience, and we are preparing to deliver just that.  While it may be different than what we have experienced in the past, be assured that our commitment to excellence is steadfast, and that your learning experience will still occur with the same dedicated and committed artist-scholar professors with whom you chose to study at Eastman.  Members of Eastman’s leadership team and I will continue to share information with you as it becomes known, and as definitive decisions are made.

In closing, I send to you all my best wishes for safe, healthy, relaxing, and productive summers.  All of us at Eastman look forward to welcoming our new and returning student to the start of an exciting and fulfilling semester on August 26.

Sincerely yours,

Jamal J. Rossi - Signature

Jamal J. Rossi
Joan and Martin Messinger Dean