By: Cady Inabinett
On March 3, it was announced that the University would be returning to “a traditional in-person class model for the fall 2021 semester.”
This change would entail shifting from the current remote and hybrid class models put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to a more traditional in-person class model.
University President Dr. John Stewart cited the declining number of COVID-19 cases and the increasing vaccination rate across the country as the main factors that influenced the COVID-19 Task Force’s decision to return to normal operations in the fall.
He reported that many faculty members have already been able to be vaccinated, and hopes that students will be able to be vaccinated by the summer.
However, Stewart also said that “safety is foremost” and that the COVID-19 Task Force will likely keep meeting throughout the summer and into the fall semester.
As for additional safety precautions such as required masking and social distancing, Stewart said it’s “difficult to say” if they will still be in place for the fall semester.
Likewise, Faculty Senate President and COVID-19 Task Force member Professor Emily Gill pointed towards the safety of students, faculty, and staff as one of the foremost factors considered while deciding to return to campus.
However, Gill also pointed out that quality of instruction and student experience also played a large role in deciding to return, saying that “some disciplines or course outcomes translate well” to remote or mixed modality learning while “some do not.”
She also noted that “social and environmental factors” play a significant role in “contributing to optimal mental health” of students further influencing the decision to return for the fall semester.
Similar to Stewart, Gill said that it is difficult to predict what exactly the fall 2021 semester will look like.
She pointed out that the role of COVID-19 Task Force so far has been to find “solutions and minimize risk in as many categories as possible,” while operating in an “emergency response” format.
Now, the Task Force is pivoting towards “the phase of work where we look at the long haul,” making it difficult to predict exactly what the fall 2021 semester will be like in terms of masking and social distancing, as plans are “still in development.”
Dr. Tammi Dahle, vice president for student enrollment and chair of the COVID-19 task force, highlighted the ever-changing nature of these plans, as well, saying that the Task Force is “prepared to adapt as needed if things change.”
Dahle also said that the Task Force will “continue to monitor the situation through the spring and summer and will notify the campus community in a timely manner” about other safety precautions such as masking and social distancing that will be put in place upon returning to campus.
Some students have expressed excitement about returning to campus in the fall as well.
Sophomore Sara Crippen said that she will be “ecstatic to be back on campus,” largely because she feels as though she “has a harder time making myself focus and complete work on time at home.”
Junior Summer Levins shared a similar opinion.
“I feel like I learn way better in the classroom and can’t wait to be back,” said Levins.