Pandemic Triggers Chaos

Colleges and universities across the country are scrambling to prepare for the new coronavirus. Updates from Wed., March 11.

March 12, 2020
 
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The pace of disruptions due to the novel coronavirus accelerated across U.S. higher education Wednesday. Several statewide systems and more than 100 colleges and universities now have announced campus closures or moved in-person classes online. Here are some of the developments from March 11.

New Guidance for Colleges in New Jersey, Medical Colleges

March 11, 6:28 p.m. The New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education issued new guidance for colleges and universities to make coronavirus-related decisions that affect campus life. The guidance addressed material hardships students might face, travel directives, continuity of instruction, quarantine facilities and procedures, cleaning protocols, and efforts to reduce anxiety

"These considerations include handling basic needs for those who need it (such as housing and food); notifying the surrounding community -- including municipal and county leadership and the local business community -- and decision-making involved with re-convening in-person instruction if an institution has decided to move its classes online," the office of Zakiya Smith Ellis, New Jersey's higher education secretary, said in a statement.

The Association of American Medical Colleges released new recommendations after a meeting at the White House. They covered:

  • Increasing the availability and capacity of testing.
  • Ensuring adequate supplies and stewardship of personal protective equipment.
  • Holding patients harmless for the cost of testing and treatment.
  • Increasing the availability and use of telehealth.
  • Supporting hospitals’ efforts to expand capacity to meet surging needs.

"America’s academic medical centers are committed to mounting a vigorous response to contain and mitigate COVID-19 and to providing quality care to any patient affected by this public health emergency, including the under- and uninsured," Dr. David J. Skorton, the association's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Because of their expert faculty physicians, highly trained health care teams and cutting-edge medical technology, major teaching hospitals consistently maintain a heightened level of preparedness to respond rapidly to any major event at any time."

-- Paul Fain


Man with University of Delaware Connections is State’s Presumptive First Positive Case

March 11, 5:45 p.m. The Delaware Division of Public Health has announced the state’s presumptive first positive cause of COVID-19, which involves “a New Castle County man over the age of 50 who is associated with the University of Delaware community.”

The man affected was exposed to another confirmed case in a different state, according to officials. He is not severely ill. He isolated himself at home when symptoms appeared.

Epidemiologists are attempting to identify other individuals who were potentially exposed. Students, faculty and staff members with concerns about exposure risks are being asked to contact a University of Delaware call center.

-- Rick Seltzer


More Universities Plan Remote Classes

March 11, 5:30 p.m. Several more major universities and systems have announced plans of varying scale for remote classes, affecting hundreds of thousands of students: the University of North Carolina system, Penn State University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Kentucky.

Penn State is strongly discouraging many students from returning to campus for several weeks. Penn is asking students to leave by Sunday.

The University of North Carolina system’s institutions will move from in-person instruction to “a system of alternative course delivery, where possible and practical, no later than March 20.” The alternative course delivery is to officially start March 23 and last indefinitely, but the system aims to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

Outside events and gatherings of 100 or more people are being canceled or postponed, and the university is suspending sponsored travel to in-state gatherings of 100 or more people, as well as travel outside the state, unless specially authorized.

Penn State University will move to remote instruction from March 16 through April 3. It plans to go back to in-person classes Monday, April 6, at the earliest.

During the three weeks following spring break, Penn State undergraduate and law students at all campus locations are being “strongly discouraged” from returning to on- and off-campus locations and dwellings. Residence halls and dining facilities will not be reopened for normal operations during the period, beyond facilities already in use.

Graduate students are also being asked to participate in classes remotely and not come to campus “specifically for face-to-face instruction.” Students who must be on campus will be worked with on an individual basis.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania is extending its spring break for all students aside from those in health-related schools or programs who have already had break or who are in clinical rotations. Penn plans to migrate classroom teaching to virtual instruction for both undergraduate and graduate classes, to begin March 23 and continue through the rest of the semester.

Penn is asking students who are out of town to not return to campus. Those on campus are being asked to leave by Sunday.

The University of Kentucky will remain open but continue instruction through “online or other alternatives” from March 23 through April 3 -- the two weeks after its spring break for most students. It intends to go back to normal course delivery April 6.

Kentucky students will be able to return to campus residence halls. Research and health-care activities are set to continue as planned. But all international travel sponsored or endorsed by the university has been indefinitely suspended. Any travelers arriving from Europe and Japan will be required to “self-isolate” for 14 days before being allowed on campus.

Further, the University of Kentucky is strongly discouraging university-sponsored or -endorsed domestic travel.

-- Rick Seltzer


No Fans for March Madness Tournaments

March 11, 4:51 p.m. The National Collegiate Athletic Association will move forward with its men’s and women’s championship basketball tournaments without public spectators, Mark Emmert, the NCAA's president, said in a statement Wednesday.

This means only essential staff and some family members will be permitted to be in the audience of the upcoming weeks of March Madness tournament games, which begin March 17. The precautions will help to protect the fans from transmitting COVID-19, as “behavioral risk mitigation strategies are the best option for slowing the spread of the disease,” the NCAA’s coronavirus advisory panel said in a statement.

A number of individual institutions, athletic conferences and governments have already canceled or issued limitations or bans on spectators at NCAA events across the country.

“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States,” Emmert said. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families.”

-- Greta Anderson


Striking Grad Students Criticize UC Santa Cruz's Move Online

March, 11, 4:45 p.m. Striking graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have put out a statement regarding the university's move to suspend face-to-face classes and begin instruction online in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The university, the students said, has weaponized the public health crisis to break the wildcat strike.

"We see the university’s turn to emergency measures as a rehearsal for a permanent shift to large scale online instruction, accelerating the creep of online teaching with little oversight, with no bargaining, and with little to no transparency," the statement said. "As UCSC looks for ways to operate in the spring after losing around 80 graduate student employees, the turn to online learning would set an alarming precedent for how a university can function without its workers."

The university dismissed or declined to appoint around 80 graduate student teaching assistants who were withholding grades. The graduate student strike began in December. It is a labor action in demand of a cost-of-living adjustment by the university.

“For undergraduates, this is not the education that they paid for,” the statement said. “Online teaching is a poor substitute for learning in a classroom, and has been shown to diminish the value of a university education."

The grads will continue with a digital picket, which involves continuing to withhold grades, keeping any grade updates off Canvas, not teaching classes online and having undergraduates submit assignments directly to TAs.

The university responded, "As local, national and global public health recommendations increasingly shift to efforts to mitigate transmission by social distancing, UC Santa Cruz is proactively taking steps to protect our campus community. In our assessment of the current situation, we believe that this is the best action for our campus and the broader Santa Cruz community."

-- Lilah Burke


SUNY and CUNY Move to Distance Learning

March 11, 3:55 p.m. The State University of New York and City University of New York systems will move to distance learning for the rest of the semester, the state's governor, Andrew Cuomo, has announced.

"This will help us reduce density and reduce the spread of this virus," the governor said in a statement on Twitter.

A statement from the governor's office later clarified that the two public university systems will "implement plans to maximize distance learning and reduce in-person classes, beginning March 19, for the remainder of the spring semester in light of the evolving novel coronavirus situation in New York. All campuses will develop plans catered to the campus and curriculum-specific needs while reducing density in the campus environment to help slow possibility for exposures to novel coronavirus. Distance learning and other options will be developed by campuses."

Hundreds of thousands of students will be affected by the move, making it one of the most significant yet seen across the country. SUNY reported fall head-count enrollment of more than 415,000 across its campuses. CUNY reported nearly 275,000 in 2018.

The SUNY Student Assembly issued a response voicing appreciation for the move while also acknowledging the fact that students will require assistance.

"Continuing SUNY’s tradition of inclusive and accessible academic excellence is as important as ever," the assembly's statement said. "The SUNY Student Assembly looks forward to working with Chancellor [Kristina M.] Johnson and her team to ensure that students have all the resources and support that they need as we make this transition.”

-- Rick Seltzer


AAC&U Conference Cancellation

March 11, 3:32 p.m. Another association has called off a conference, as the Association of American Colleges & Universities canceled its 2020 Conference on Diversity, Equity and Student Success, which had been slated to be held in New Orleans March 19-21.

AAC&U is planning to present some keynote sessions and workshops virtually. Materials from presentations for concurrent sessions will go up online. The association plans to reach out to those registered soon with information about participating virtually or options for refunds.

“The health and safety of conference participants and AAC&U staff members are our highest priorities and were the determining factors in this difficult decision,” AAC&U said in a statement.

-- Rick Seltzer


Big Ten Says Hoops Tournaments Still On

March 11, 3:15 p.m. The Big Ten Conference said Wednesday afternoon that its men's basketball tournament will continue as scheduled. The games are set to tip off this evening.

"The Big Ten Conference’s main priority is to ensure the safety of our students, coaches, administrators, event staff, fans and media as we continue to monitor all relevant information on the COVID-19 virus," the Big Ten said in a statement.

The Ivy League on Tuesday canceled its men's and women's basketball tournaments over coronavirus concerns. Some basketball players criticized the move, creating an online petition calling for the tournaments to be reinstated.

"The hypocrisy of our Ivy League presidents is baffling and alarming," said the petition. "We are disappointed and disheartened that they would discriminate against one sport and allow the others to continue to compete."

On Wednesday the conference dropped all athletics practice and competition through the remainder of the spring.

Local authorities have banned large gatherings in San Francisco and the Seattle area, according to news reports.

-- Paul Fain


University Closures Continue

March 11, 1:30 p.m. The University of Massachusetts system, the University System of Maryland, the University of Virginia, Georgetown University, George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University are among the latest institutions to move classes online and to urge students to leave campus.

UMass's five campuses will "shift to a virtual mode of instruction" beginning on March 16 and through at least April 3, the system said in a statement. Most of the system's 75,000 students will not be on campus during that time, said UMass.

The University System of Maryland on Tuesday urged all of its universities across the 12-institution system to prepare for students to remain off campus for at least two weeks after the system's spring break, which begins Saturday and ends on March 22.

George Washington and Johns Hopkins both announced the suspension of in-person classes, which will move to online or remote versions.

UVA’s shift to online instruction will begin on March 19, James E. Ryan, the university’s president, said in a statement.

“Students who are away on spring break are strongly encouraged to return home or to remain home if they are already there,” Ryan said. “Students on grounds and in Charlottesville are strongly encouraged to return home by this weekend.”

Georgetown’s move to online will begin on March 19. The university strongly encouraged undergraduate students to move to their permanent addresses.

“We understand that for some number of students there will be a compelling reason to remain on campus,” the university said in a statement. “Campus will remain open and key services will be available.”

-- Paul Fain


More Campus and Conference Suspensions

March 11, 12:30 p.m. Michigan State University was one of the latest and largest universities to announce the suspension of all in-person classes, effective at noon Wednesday. The university said in a statement that health authorities were investigating and monitoring someone linked to the campus for coronavirus-related concerns.

Notre Dame University also announced Wednesday that it is moving to online instruction and canceling in-person classes, beginning March 23 though at least April 13.

By Wednesday morning, roughly 90 colleges and universities had shut down their campuses or suspended in-person instruction and moved it online or to distance delivery, according to a crowdsourced Google sheet created by Bryan Alexander, a futurist, researcher and senior scholar at Georgetown University.

Several others are helping Alexander maintain the database, which is being populated by contributors throughout higher education. It has crashed several times due to heavy traffic.

ASU+GSV, a meeting focused on education technology, postsecondary education and workforce development that had been scheduled for April in San Diego, has been postponed until the fall.

Organizers of the conference, which hosted 5,500 attendees last year, said postponing was “the best option to protect our community and to have a truly productive convening.”

The American Association of Geographers also announced the cancelation of its April meeting in Denver. The group said Wednesday morning that it would shift to an online version, free of charge.

-- Paul Fain


Low-Income Students and Campus Shutdowns

March 11, noon. Harvard University is giving students less than a week to pack up, leave campus and not return after spring break is over.

Primus, a student organization at Harvard that advocates for the university's low-income and first-generation students, put out a statement highlighting several ways this expectation will be close to impossible for students who are not privileged.

Many can't afford unexpected travel costs to get home. They're expected to pay for storage units for on-campus belongings. Students won't be able to rely on their on-campus jobs. And they're being ask to make all these changes while still attending classes this week.

On top of that, students will have to take courses online, which requires internet access and computers.

"These closures disproportionately affect the most vulnerable groups of students on campus," said Anthony Abraham Jack, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, later adding, "I know what it means to be affected by something that money can't stop, but money helps you through. So when you don't come from money, you feel the full brunt of it."

Beyond financial constraints, some students may not have safe homes to return to, he said. Jack said he knows of one student who lives an hour from home but never visits, because the student is queer and doesn't get a bed at home. Other students never had three square meals a day and a consistent roof over their heads until coming to college, Jack added.

"Even if college is hell, it can still be a sanctuary for some students," he said.

Primus has organized a document of resources and answers for students on financial assistance and help from alumni. But Jack said it's unfair to expect students to take on the job of the university.

"We must be better, as college officials, at outlining processes so students can just be students," he said. "Right now, colleges are addressing this pandemic almost solely as a public health issue, when it's actually one affecting inequalities on campuses."

-- Madeline St. Amour


Unrest at the University of Dayton

March 11, 11:30 a.m. A large crowd including students from the University of Dayton gathered on the Ohio campus yesterday after the university on Tuesday suspended in-person classes due to coronavirus concerns. The university called on all residential students to leave campus by 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Students began gathering in large numbers after the announcement. The Dayton Daily News reported that police officers from multiple departments, some wearing riot gear, cleared the crowd, which dispersed by 2:15 a.m. One person was injured in the disturbance, according to the university.

Students were not reacting to the coronavirus measures, the university said, but instead “wanted one last large gathering” before Dayton’s spring break, which begins Friday.

“A large disorderly crowd that grew to more than 1,000 people gathered on Lowes Street starting around 11 p.m., throwing objects and bottles in the street and at police, and jumping on cars,” the university said in a written statement. “Police gave verbal orders to disperse which were ignored. Police initially launched pepper balls, which contain powder with an irritant that disperses quickly, that were unsuccessful in reducing the crowd size.”

-- Paul Fain

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