Considering Options for Reopening Campuses

April 29, 2020

To:  Students, faculty, staff, and administrators
From:  Ralph W. Kuncl, President; Kathy Ogren, Provost; Donna M. Eddleman, University Dean for Student Affairs; Deans Kendrick Brown, Jana Childers, Thomas Horan, and Andrew Wall; and the University Emergency Preparedness and Planning Group 
Subject:  Considering Options for Reopening Campuses

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a running series these days called “The Question Everyone’s Asking.”  More than one of our masterful faculty have asked us if we can’t “do whatever it takes to get us back in our classrooms.”  Yet the families of admitted students ask us how we might accommodate their learning situation given future concerns for their health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  These comments voice the strong desires for a return to the prized customized education we hold so dear and an equally strong fear for our health and safety.

How shall we “return?”  And when?  We wish we could discern those answers.  Right now, while we work and learn remotely to protect the University community’s health and safety, we are also planning the logistics for the coming semester of the College of Arts and Sciences and the sessions/periods/semesters of the professional schools.  A small army of your colleagues on the Emergency Preparedness and Planning Group are considering possible scenarios and developing contingencies. 

What we will encounter in the fall remains unknown; however, important questions demand attention.  Will classes be online, in-person, or a combination of both? Will the semester/session start later than planned? For College of Arts and Sciences undergraduates, will residence halls be open, and, if so, with what modifications?  How might we accommodate social distancing in communal settings?  What will we do with music ensembles or tutorial-style teaching?  Are there special considerations for the School of Business, School of Education, or Graduate School of Theology?

As we tackle these questions, the safety of our community will be our highest priority, with county, state, and federal guidelines informing our decision-making.  Our values will guide our thinking, as we remain committed to providing a personalized education and enriching student learning with opportunities for growth.  For undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences, this includes a residential experience.  For all students, whether in the College or in our Schools of Business, Theology, Music, and Education, we cherish high-quality academics and interactive and community-based learning; shared spaces help students to exchange knowledge and perspectives with each other and with educators.  With this in mind, for many of our programs we are considering the following, listed in order of our preference:

  • A return to in-person education, but with accommodations necessary at the time.

  • Instruction options that allow students to choose in-person (still cognizant of social distancing) and/or technology-assisted learning opportunities.

  • A delayed start to the fall semester/session to provide more time for the pandemic to run its course and for physicians/scientists to develop new ways to treat and prevent the disease. (The eight-week School of Business periods, however, will take place as scheduled, whether in person, hybrid, or online.)

  • A full semester of remote, online learning, which would be implemented only in the absence of other alternatives. (Specific classes in the professional schools typically offered online will continue in this modality.)

We all share the desire to return to campus.  While we continue to gather information and evaluate options, we understand that our community needs time to prepare for the next academic session.  We anticipate providing an update on our plans by mid-June.