University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel will recommend to the Board of Regents next week that the school resume in-person classes and reopen residence halls this fall.
Gabel also will suggest each campus adjust their academic calendars to conclude in-person instruction by Thanksgiving — or earlier if state health officials deem it necessary.
Her recommendations, announced Friday, come after several weeks of deliberations with university leaders and public health experts. The plan must be approved by the board.
“While much planning remains to be done, we have made real progress,” Gabel wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff. “We look forward to welcoming our new and returning students back to our campuses this fall.”
The U’s fall plan will include accommodations in residence halls, dining facilities, common spaces and class scheduling to promote social distancing. There will be thorough sanitizing and cleaning efforts. The use of masks will be recommended for anyone on campus.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Gabel will discuss plans for personal health monitoring and protocols for COVID-19 testing, isolation, quarantine and contact tracing.
“Above all else, our plans allow for flexibility, so that we may adapt to changing public health conditions,” Gabel said.
Students at the U’s five campuses will have access to alternative format and “multimodal” classes if their physical classrooms and lecture halls aren’t conducive to social distancing, Gabel said. The university will offer more evening and Saturday classes to limit how many classes occur in a given building each day.
If social distancing is still recommended in the fall, instructors will be able to decide whether to hold their classes in person or remotely, according to board meeting documents. The same flexibility will be offered to students, who can choose to take classes remotely or in person.
In-person instruction would conclude by Thanksgiving break under Gabel’s plan, so that students won’t need to return to campus after the holiday weekend. If classwork such as final exams remains, it would be provided in an alternate format. Proposed start and end dates for each campus will be presented during the board meeting.
“I think it is good for the students to be on campus. It’s a better situation, better atmosphere for them,” said Regent Steve Sviggum, vice chairman of the board.
Sviggum added that the potential Thanksgiving cutoff for in-person classes is a “wise call” because students will “probably go home, spread around all over the country.”
“It would seem that that would be a time that students would be more likely to bring some COVID-19 back to the campus,” he said.
Regent Michael Hsu stressed the need for flexibility for students who are worried about returning to campus during a pandemic, and for administrators who might have to repeat what they did in the spring: Rapidly close campus and shift all classes online if COVID-19 cases spike.
“How prepared are they going to be to do something different?” Hsu said of university administrators. “And how quickly are they going to act?”