Protecting a university’s ‘heart and soul’ when reopening in fall 2020
Protecting universities’ core academic and research missions is the top priority of university presidents, such as Susan Cole at Montclair State University in New Jersey, as they prepare to reopen in fall 2020.
“We have to keep the heart and soul of this enterprise,” Cole told University Business. “It means we have to have the highest quality of instructional programs, we have to continue our research endeavors, and we have to be able to support students to the greatest extent possible to succeed.”
Cole and her team are planning now for three types of instruction: back on campus with normal protocols, a hybrid of in-person and online classes and fully online.
“We are trying to plan for three different universities, and it’s pretty complicated,” Cole says. “We are going to have to a thinner institution.”
The university was recently notified of a $12 million cut in state funding for the spring 2020 semester and it refunded another $15 million to students they had to leave residence halls.
The university will get about $20 million from the CARES Act, half of which will go to students. The other half will cover some of those revenue shortfalls.
Cole anticipates fewer courses and larger classes in fall 2020.
“We’ll try to run a leaner academic program with a much more highly considered group of courses, the course students really need,” Cole says. “We may not be offering all the electives that are really great to have, but not at this the moment.”
But there are a lot of unknowns, such as how much state funding the university will receive and what enrollment numbers will be.
Other questions include how widespread coronavirus remains in August, what public health regulations are in place and how students and staff respond, Cole says.
“Will they stay home, will they insist on coming out, will they feel afraid or eager to come back?” Cole says.
Campus life is another major focus of Montclair’s planning.
Administrators are beginning to discuss how, or if, to reopen residence halls under normal operations or with a reduced number of students living in single rooms.
As for dining halls, Cole says options include reduced hours, placing tables six feet apart or reducing the number of students who can sit at each table.
Administrators are also asking whether furniture might have to be removed from the library to reduce the number of students who can congregate there.
“As we look forward, we’re also thinking about the immediate educational imperative of how we salvage the spring term for our 21,000 students,” Cole says. “How do we enable them to get credit for this term and continue to make progress to their degree? Every university is asking the same questions.”
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