August 3, 2020: Letter to NU & BU Urging All-Virtual Reopening

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Dear President Brown and President Aoun,

In light of the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in MA, I urge you to switch to entirely virtual models for the fall semester at Boston University and Northeastern University, respectively. While the focus of university reopening plans has been on methods of controlling transmission once students are here, the greatest public health risk to Boston at the moment is the sheer influx of individuals from out of state. Each of your institutions draws nearly three-quarters of your undergraduate students from out of state; for the safety of the city, as many of them as possible should stay home.

No large city in America has the same scale of population swing as Boston in late August and early September. In this season of pandemic, that pattern poses a unique risk. We treasure our universities and all that your institutions contribute to our great city, from research to arts to the local economy. Your plans for the fall – in terms of testing capacity, dorm de-densification, cleaning protocols, and public health messaging – reflect a great deal of thought. Yet the best “harm reduction” strategy at this juncture is simply not to encourage your far-flung student bodies to return to Boston this month. Furthermore, your institutional plans for off-campus student communities are concerningly weaker; the seniors and other vulnerable populations who live in these neighborhoods must not be put at such elevated risk.

Therefore, in addition to a virtual teaching model, the safety of our neighborhoods requires the following measures for all students who do return:

  • Isolation housing. Isolation units must be provided to all off-campus students who test positive for COVID-19, not only to students living on-campus.
  • Quarantine Monitoring. All students should be required to register with the university their date of return to Boston, not just to campus, and confirm their plans to comply with the Governor’s quarantine requirements with the university. They should be required by the university to take a test upon initial arrival in the city – not simply prior to classes. Students returning to Boston who have not completed the requirements of quarantine or provided the requisite information should have their campus access deactivated and be unable to register for classes.
  • Off-Campus Monitoring. Violations of public health guidelines off-campus – especially the holding of large gatherings – should be directly linked to serious university discipline, including suspension and the inability to complete the semester. University personnel should be on call for rapid incident response, and equipped with address and contact information to quickly identify offending students.

I am writing to you as the leaders of the two institutions of higher education in my district that intend to bring the largest numbers of out-of-state and off-campus students back to the city. Again, I urge you to modify your plans for the safety of our entire shared community.


Kenzie Bok, Boston City Councilor

District 8 (Mission Hill, Fenway, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, West End)

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