Administrators at the University of Connecticut held a virtual town hall Wednesday afternoon to discuss different possibilities for the upcoming fall semester, including class formats, who would be back on campus and tuition and fees.
“We are working with the assumption that we will be fully residential in the fall,” President Thomas Katsouleas said. “We are redesigning the campus, our facilities, our behavioral training [and] our curriculum in order to design the safest possible reentry environment to protect faculty, staff and students.”
Katsouleas said the university has accepted people will be wearing masks in shared spaces and should be maintaining 6 feet of distance outside of possible pod units within dorms.
“In public spaces, the 6-foot spacing has consequences, meaning our classes will be at about one-third of the density of students that they used to be at,” Katsouleas said. “Depending on scheduling, we will be at 30 to 50% of our classroom capacity. Even in the case where students are back in person, our courses will be a mix of online and in person.”
Katsouleas said it is up to him to make the final decision about the fall semester, and there are conditions from the Governor’s Higher Education subcommittee that must be met in order to return to campus, including low prevalence, testing availability, contact tracing, state guidance, personal protective equipment availability, proximate surge capacity and liability protection.
Provost Carl Lejuez said the university plans to have a mix of in person, online and hybrid classes if it is safe to do so.
“We want to try and start with what is in the best interest of students and student preference,” Lejuez said. “We are then able to first see what is safe, and then what is available for faculty and figure out where those demands meet.”
Lejuez said there are many different scenarios being considered for classes, one of which being hybrids where some parts of classes are online and others are in person. This might include some students attending class in person some days, and watching it remotely others.
“We are doing everything we can to get as many students who want an in-person experience,” Lejuez said. “It wouldn’t be some get it and some don’t. It would be as much for every person as it is safe.”
According to Lejuez, the university is finding ways to ensure that anyone who feels unsafe returning to campus would have online opportunities going forward.
Scott Jordan, UConn’s chief financial officer, said UConn is not considering changing tuition.
“The education will be delivered, and we will do it in as high quality of a way as we can,” Jordan said. “Many of the fees provide student support services that are available even if we are not here on campus”
Students would need to be tested for COVID-19 to return to campus in accordance with the Governor’s Higher Education Subcommittee Gating Conditions. David Banach, infectious disease specialist at UConn Health, said students would be tested for the disease itself, not the antibodies. There are still discussions about the implementation of testing.
“The main testing focus for reentry is [polymerase chain reaction] to identify active infection,” Banach said. “At this point we are in an infancy of understanding the significance of antibodies.”
When the spring semester moved to online learning, more than half of student workers were able to continue working remotely, according to Vice President for Enrollment Management Nathan Fuerst, and he said he expects that would be the case again in the fall if students were not to return to campus.
Fuerst also said that if students choose to take a leave of absence in the fall, it will not impact their eligibility for financial aid for future terms.