After a two-week delay, University of Minnesota students will be able to move into dormitories at the Twin Cities, Duluth and Rochester campuses, and courses that were temporarily moved online will return to the classroom.
The U's Board of Regents had voted last month to delay the opening of dormitories and the start of in-person undergraduate classes at the three campuses by two weeks to give administrators more time to evaluate public health conditions and new federal guidance. Officials announced Tuesday that campus life will resume following the delay, but restrictions such as a curfew and the "dorm version of a stay-at-home order" will be in place initially.
"What we're trying to do is find a really, really narrow balance between the safety and campus life," U President Joan Gabel told state senators during a higher education committee hearing Tuesday.
Students will begin moving into residence halls in Duluth on Sept. 9, in the Twin Cities on Sept. 15 and in Rochester on Sept. 18. Campus housing and dining contracts will be prorated to reflect the delay. The university estimates it will lose about $5 million in revenue because of the postponed move-in.
As of Monday, 632 Twin Cities students had canceled or deferred their campus housing contracts since regents voted to delay move-in, according to a U spokeswoman.
Roughly 4,900 Twin Cities students are set to live in campus residence halls and apartments this fall, down from about 7,500 last year. The campus has set aside 407 dorm rooms for isolation and quarantine.
Classes for the roughly 38,000 undergraduates at the three campuses will start on time and be taught online for the first two weeks of the semester, before returning to their previously scheduled modality.
About 70% of classes at the Twin Cities campus are slated to be taught online for the whole semester.
The campus reopenings will come with some restrictions. The university has created a four-step process, limiting students' movement on campus.
For the first 10 days, students who live on campus will be somewhat confined to their residence halls.
They will be allowed to attend classes, go to work, eat at dining halls or be outdoors while socially distancing. But they are not supposed to visit other dorms or off-campus businesses or residences during this span.
Students who do not follow the initial rules could face disciplinary action, such as the termination of their campus housing contract.
If those restrictions are followed, students living on campus will be allowed to visit all school facilities and the surrounding community. However, they must be "back home" in their dorms by 9 p.m. each day. This phase is expected to last two weeks, according to the university.
Curfew would be pushed from 9 p.m. to midnight under step three, which would last another two weeks.
And step four would lift the curfew restriction and give students full access to campus, so long as they wear masks, maintain physical distance and avoid large gatherings.
The restrictions do not apply to graduate or professional students unless they live in residence halls. And they do not apply to students living off campus, either, though many attending the Twin Cities campus live in apartments less than a mile away.
Amy Ma, student body president at the Twin Cities campus, questioned whether the university will be able to enforce curfews. She also criticized the school for threatening to terminate student housing contracts as a form of discipline.
"The thought of kicking someone out of university housing is really concerning to me. … It seems like students are getting the blame and the burden of trying to make sure our university functions normally, which is just not possible," said Ma, who believes the school should operate fully online this fall.
Regent Ken Powell, chairman of the board, said the phased approach to campus life increases the university's chances of staying open through Thanksgiving, after which all classes are slated to shift online. The school is proactively restricting activities, he said, noting that other colleges have only taken such steps after outbreaks occurred.
"We recognize this is not normal. We are in a pandemic, but we are really trying to make the most of what we can do here," Powell said.
State Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, criticized Gabel's plan during the Senate hearing Tuesday.
The first phase, which resembles a stay-at-home order, could hurt students' mental health, Jensen said. New students living on their own for the first time may also lose their sense of autonomy, he added.
"I didn't really hear many bullet points that would make a student want to come on campus," Jensen said.
Gabel acknowledged the first weeks on campus are "not going to be much fun" for students living in residence halls. But, she said, "it gets a lot more fun over time if we make the hard choices in the beginning."