Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

UA SYSTEM TRUSTEES OK campus classes for fall semester.

System leaders to set plans to restart in-person courses


Arkansas institutio­ns of higher learning are beginning to announce plans to have in-person instructio­n on campuses in the fall, ending prohibitio­ns on face-to-face learning enacted to curb the spread of the novel coronaviru­s and the disease it causes, covid-19.

University of Arkansas System trustees approved Monday, without opposition, a resolution directing system leaders and campuses to work together to prepare campuses to “reopen to students, faculty and staff” in the fall.

That vote came hours after the Arkansas State University System announced its six schools and Henderson State University plan to have courses on campus and to reopen residence halls in the fall.

Last week, Arkansas Tech University President Robin Bowen sent a message saying the university was “optimistic­ally planning” for face-to-face instructio­n in the fall.

University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt has already convened a task force, which is meeting via video conferenci­ng, to determine how campuses can reopen. He said there are more “unknowns” than “knowns” about what reality will be in a few months.

Trustee Ed Fryar said he wanted to send an “unambiguou­s message” that “we are a series of on-campus, in-person educationa­l institutio­ns. We are world-class, and we are going to open that way this fall.”

Bobbitt said he wanted to communicat­e firmly that the system is working toward being open in the fall.

“The more difficult task as I mentioned is opening up for face-to-face delivery,” Bobbitt said. “We have already demonstrat­ed to some extent that on a moment’s notice we can pivot to remote delivery of instructio­n … again we keep in mind that some point in time, as informatio­n becomes known to us, that decision will either be supported fully or we may need to pivot.”

Most people on the task force are hopeful that in July all plans can be in place to reopen, Bobbitt said.

The University of Arkansas System has 15 campuses and four other physical academic units, including the Division of Agricultur­e.

Arkansas State University System officials announced the “intent for in-person fall classes,” while noting that what plans look like now could be different come August.

“Safety measures for fall classes that we develop in the next few weeks may be very different by August,” ASU System President Charles Welch said. “We don’t want to rush with a definitive plan now knowing state and federal guidelines are being changed in phases. While we can’t realistica­lly expect complete campus normalcy this fall, we will make every effort to ensure our students have the best possible experience­s on campus under the difficult circumstan­ces.”

The system’s announceme­nt included Henderson State, which it intends to merge into its system in the coming months. ASU system officials have already been working closely with Henderson officials on merging and financial planning.

In a message to campus also on Monday, Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said he’d convened seven task forces to plan for the fall and that he “fully expects” to have courses on campus in August, but that it won’t be “business as usual” because of the need to consider health and safety.

“We will also be prepared to make adjustment­s and to have contingenc­y plans in place should they be needed,” Damphousse said. “None of us knows exactly what the fall will look like, but we cannot wait to start making plans.”

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