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Amid growing concerns about the potential spread of coronavirus, colleges across the country are telling students to go home.

Harvard University, in Massachusetts, was one of a rapidly growing number of colleges that announced on Tuesday it would transition from in-person to online instruction and ask students to depart campus in an effort to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness known as COVID-19. Harvard instructed students not to return after spring break, which starts this weekend, and said students would complete their coursework remotely "until further notice."

University officials said students who must remain on campus due to extenuating circumstances “will also receive instruction remotely and must prepare for severely limited on-campus activities and interactions.” Graduate students will also transition to working remotely “wherever possible,” the announcement said.

"The decision to move to virtual instruction was not made lightly," Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said in a statement. "The goal of these changes is to minimize the need to gather in large groups and spend prolonged time in close proximity with each other in spaces such as classrooms, dining halls, and residential buildings."

Other colleges that made major announcements about changes to the academic schedule on Tuesday include Berea College, a Kentucky institution where tuition is free and where every student works in a campus job. Berea said the college would cease instruction this Friday and ask students to move out on Saturday.

“Faculty are requested to give immediate consideration to how their courses can be brought to closure in that time, and we apologize for the very short notice. Because most students will have left campus and not all will have internet access, instruction should not continue, although assignments for students to complete and submit can be part of the plan and electronic communications may continue,” Berea’s president, Lyle Roelofs, said in a statement.

Berea said it would provide accommodations for students for whom returning home would be a hardship, and said all students will continue to be paid for their campus work positions through the end of the semester even if they are off campus and unable to work.

Cornell University, in New York, also said it was moving to online learning for the remainder of the semester after its spring break, which starts March 28. Students are receiving instructions on moving out of campus housing, but they can seek permission to stay if they are unable to return to their permanent residences.

"While there are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tompkins County, we want to do all we can to minimize the community spread of the virus, which could prove challenging if many of our community members were to leave for spring break (March 28-April 5) and return to campus," Cornell president Martha E. Pollack wrote in a message to the campus.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also is transitioning to online instruction on March 30 and requiring undergraduates to leave the campus by next Tuesday, March 17. The university said it would "consider limited exceptions to allow certain undergraduate students to remain on campus." Online instruction will continue through the remainder of the semester.

Duke University, which is currently on spring break, has asked all undergraduate, graduate and professional students not to return to campus, if at all possible. Duke has suspended in-person classes “until further notice” and plans to begin remote instruction March 23.

“Students who do remain in campus housing or in the Durham area should be aware that access to many facilities and services -- including dining, recreation and libraries -- will be limited. In addition, student activities and gatherings will be curtailed,” the university said in a statement.

Smith College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, is asking students to leave campus by March 20 and telling them not to expect to return this semester. Alternate modes of instruction will start March 30, after an extended spring break.

"Room and board will be provided only to students who have no option but to remain on campus, including those from countries with travel restrictions, those whose legal residence is Smith College and those with other extenuating circumstances," the college said in its announcement.

Another liberal arts college, Bucknell University, in Pennsylvania, instructed students to leave campus by March 17 and said the university would transition to online learning for the remainder of the semester. And Colorado College, a liberal arts college that offers one class at a time in 3.5-week blocks, said it would offer the next block via virtual learning and that students should plan to remain off campus at least through the end of the next block and possibly for the remainder of the academic year.

Other institutions that said they are suspending in-person instruction in favor of remote teaching and would ask students to leave campus for shorter periods include Johns Hopkins University, in Maryland, which is asking undergraduate students not to return to campus after spring break and to stay home until April 12; Rutgers University, in New Jersey, which is starting spring break early and asking students to remain off campus through at least April 3; Indiana University, which is encouraging students to return home to take classes remotely through at least April 6; and Syracuse University, in New York, which is asking students to leave campus this week and not return until in-person teaching resumes no earlier than March 30.

Baldwin-Wallace University, in Ohio, is switching to remote instruction and encouraging students to return to their homes through April 10. Youngstown State University, also in Ohio, said it would extend spring break for an additional week, through March 22, and use the time to finalize alternative instructional modes "that will allow most students to continue their education without coming to campus during the coronavirus outbreak."

A growing number of colleges have announced closures or transitions to online learning in recent days (for more information, see Inside Higher Ed's roundups from Monday and Tuesday).

The California State University system on Tuesday instructed leaders of its 23 campuses to “consider shifting the delivery of as much of the curriculum as possible to non-face-to-face modalities” to minimize disruptions to student learning caused by the coronavirus. The system said "in-person instruction should cease for two to four days while faculty and administration focus on the final details of converting to non-in-person instructional modalities."

The University of California, Los Angeles -- which is on a quarter rather than a semester system -- said Tuesday it is transitioning to online learning through April 10, the second week of its spring quarter. Students will be encouraged to start the spring quarter remotely, though university housing will be available for those who need it.

The rapid move to online education formats has raised concerns among faculty. Rudy Fichtenbaum, the president of the American Association of University Professors, said that while the group applauds administrators’ efforts to keep students, faculty and staff safe, it is hearing from members that decisions about closing campuses or moving instruction online “are being made without adequate faculty involvement in decision making” in violation of AAUP guidance.

“In certain situations, it is necessary to close a campus or move to online instruction to safeguard the health of the campus community,” Fichtenbaum said. “Faculty and academic staff -- through their shared governance bodies or, when applicable, their unions -- should be consulted on how best to implement this decision. In order to ensure full participation, administrations should share information with faculty and seek input from the appropriate faculty bodies. In cases where the institution is moving to an all-online model to avoid virus transmission on campus, it is incumbent on administrations to provide all instructional faculty with the appropriate software and training. Administrations should also consider the needs and limitations of students, who may lack access to the internet or face other obstacles to completing their coursework remotely.”

In college sports news, the Ivy League called off its basketball tournaments and said it would impose strict limits on spectators at other events. Mark Emmert, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said that NCAA member colleges and conferences will make their own decisions regarding regular season and conference tournament play.

“As we have stated, we will make decisions on our events based on the best, most current public health guidance available,” Emmert said in a statement. “Neither the NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel, made up of leading public health and infectious disease experts in America, nor the CDC or local health officials have advised against holding sporting events. In the event circumstances change, we will make decisions accordingly.”

And in news from the high seas, the Semester at Sea study abroad program, which is affiliated with Colorado State University, said it would end the voyage early, citing U.S. Department of State and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warnings against cruise travel. The study abroad program, which had been scheduled to visit seven countries on four continents, had to alter its itinerary and was at one point denied permission to dock in the Seychelles by public health and port authorities, even though the program says there was no evidence of health concerns.

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