Col­leges adopt­ing new looks for fall

Keep­ing stu­dents so­cially dis­tanced the pri­mary goal

Orlando Sentinel - - Nation & World - By Collin Binkley

Grow­ing num­bers of U.S. col­leges are pledg­ing to re­open this fall, with dra­matic changes to cam­pus life to keep the coro­n­avirus at bay.

Big lec­tures will be a thing of the past. Dorms will will be nowhere near ca­pac­ity. Stu­dents will face manda­tory virus test­ing. And at some smaller schools, stu­dents may be barred from leav­ing cam­pus.

Even as some uni­ver­si­ties aban­don hope of in-per­son in­struc­tion next se­mes­ter, cit­ing con­cerns from pub­lic health of­fi­cials, dozens are an­nounc­ing plans to wel­come stu­dents back in Au­gust. They ac­knowl­edge an out­break could force classes back on­line, but many of their lead­ers say the fi­nan­cial and po­lit­i­cal pres­sures to re­open are too large to ig­nore.

At West Vir­ginia Univer­sity, Pres­i­dent E. Gor­don Gee said stu­dents don’t want to wait for a vac­cine, and the school can’t af­ford to do so.

“If it was sim­ply based on sci­ence, we would keep ev­ery­thing shut down un­til we have a vac­cine and it’s work­ing,” Gee said. “But I don’t feel that’s fea­si­ble, ei­ther eco­nom­i­cally or so­cially, and cer­tainly not ed­u­ca­tion­ally. We will open, but it will be dif­fer­ent.”

Col­leges plan­ning to re­open in­clude Pur­due Univer­sity, Texas A&M Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Notre Dame and statewide sys­tems in Ari­zona, Florida, New Hamp­shire and else­where. Some plan to make de­ci­sions this sum­mer, in­clud­ing Princeton Univer­sity.

The Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity sys­tem, by con­trast, has said its 23 cam­puses will stay mostly on­line this fall, cit­ing pre­dic­tions of a virus resur­gence later this year. Oth­ers in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of South Carolina, Rice and Creighton uni­ver­si­ties plan to bring stu­dents back but end the term be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, an­tic­i­pat­ing a sec­ond wave could hit later in the fall.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has en­cour­aged schools to re­open de­spite con­cerns from his top in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert, Dr. An­thony Fauci.

Speak­ing at a Se­nate hear­ing this month, Fauci said it would be “a bit of a bridge too far” to ex­pect a vac­cine be­fore the fall. Trump coun­tered that the com­ment was “not an ac­cept­able an­swer.”

New guide­lines from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion say col­leges should work with state and lo­cal of­fi­cials to de­cide how to re­open. But the agency sug­gests a range of safety measures for cam­puses, say­ing they should keep com­mon spa­ces closed if pos­si­ble, hold smaller classes in larger rooms and in­stall plas­tic bar­ri­ers in ar­eas where it’s hard to stay apart.

Col­leges that plan to re­open have told stu­dents to ex­pect strict so­cial-dis­tanc­ing measures, in­clud­ing manda­tory use of face masks. Col­lege lead­ers say wide­spread virus test­ing will be the linch­pin to a safe re­open­ing. At many schools, stu­dents who test pos­i­tive would be placed in dorm rooms re­served as quar­an­tine space.

But there are ques­tions about schools’ abil­ity to pro­vide large num­bers of tests. Some re­search uni­ver­si­ties say they have the lab equip­ment to an­a­lyze virus tests but not enough swabs and test­ing chem­i­cals. Smaller schools will need to hire com­pa­nies to han­dle tests, likely at a sig­nif­i­cant cost.

In a re­cent call with 14 univer­sity lead­ers, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence pledged to help col­leges ramp up test­ing op­er­a­tions. But some on the call said de­tails, es­pe­cially about fund­ing, re­main hazy.

“This test­ing is go­ing to cost money, and many aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions are al­ready go­ing to be fis­cally chal­lenged,” said Michael Lovell, pres­i­dent of Mar­quette Univer­sity in Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin. “There’s not a clear path from an in­sti­tu­tional point of view.”

Once stu­dents are back on cam­pus, the pri­mary goal will be to keep them spaced out, col­leges say.

Class­room desks will be ar­ranged 6 feet apart. Class sched­ules may be stag­gered. Big lec­tures will be split up or moved on­line. Some col­leges are dis­cussing teach­ing cer­tain classes out­side or in tents.

A grow­ing num­ber of col­leges say they will of­fer a “hy­brid flex” model, in which classes are of­fered on­line and in per­son at the same time, and stu­dents can choose ei­ther op­tion. Pro­fes­sors

at some col­leges will also be al­lowed to con­tinue teach­ing re­motely through video feeds pro­jected in the class­room.

Most vex­ing for col­leges, how­ever, is the dilemma of dorm life. At some schools, suites meant for sev­eral stu­dents will be lim­ited to one or two. Bath­rooms shared by en­tire floors will be re­stricted to a hand­ful of stu­dents. With only so much dorm space, some col­leges have been scram­bling to rent nearby apart­ments as over­flow hous­ing.

At Trin­ity Col­lege, a school of 2,000 in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut, of­fi­cials hope to place ev­ery stu­dent in their own room. Staff mem­bers have been scour­ing cam­pus with tape measures in re­cent weeks to make sure stu­dents will have space to stay 6 feet apart.

“I have a huge in­cen­tive to want to re­open,” Trin­ity Pres­i­dent Joanne Berg­erSweeney said. “I want to see our stu­dents. I want to see them ed­u­cated in the best way pos­si­ble. And I also want to re­main a sig­nif­i­cant and good em­ployer in the state of Con­necti­cut at a time when that’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

Bos­ton Univer­sity is ex­plor­ing whether the hous­ing prob­lem can be solved by plac­ing stu­dents into “fam­ily groups” that live to­gether but have lit­tle so­cial in­ter­ac­tion with other groups. Robert Brown, the school’s pres­i­dent, said plac­ing all stu­dents alone “may be overly iso­lat­ing for stu­dents and lead to an­other set of prob­lems.”

At Clare­mont McKenna Col­lege near Los An­ge­les, of­fi­cials are won­der­ing how their sin­gle din­ing hall will ac­com­mo­date 900 stu­dents who buy meal plans. The school is weigh­ing measures to re­strict ca­pac­ity in the hall, which may re­quire stu­dents to eat in shifts or take their meals out­side.

It’s just one way in which cam­pus life will “not be the same as what we have grown so ac­cus­tomed to,” said Hi­ram Cho­dosh, pres­i­dent of the col­lege.

Hop­ing to keep the virus away, some smaller col­leges are con­sid­er­ing lim­its or even out­right bans on travel in and out of cam­pus. In a re­cent let­ter to stu­dents, Amherst Col­lege in Mas­sachusetts said of­fi­cials “may need to re­quire that you limit your move­ment to on-cam­pus lo­ca­tions only.”

At West Vir­ginia, Gee said he’ll rely on stu­dents to po­lice their own be­hav­ior. He ar­gues that peer pres­sure is more ef­fec­tive “than a 76-year-old univer­sity pres­i­dent say­ing don’t do it.”

Gee, known for his im­promptu ap­pear­ances at stu­dent ac­tiv­i­ties on cam­pus and off, said he will scale back this fall, much to his cha­grin.

“It’s go­ing to be a lot dif­fer­ent for me, and I’m go­ing to miss that,” Gee said. “But I view us as danc­ing with the coro­n­avirus.”

STEVEN SENNE/AP

Kevin Gon­za­les places mark­ings to pro­mote so­cial dis­tanc­ing May 21 near an el­e­va­tor on the cam­pus of Bos­ton Univer­sity.

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