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Virginia's Radford University

Radford University

A growing number of colleges announced plans to reopen their campuses for the fall semester, in some cases using language that was more definitive than previously seen in higher education so far in the crisis.

Radford University, for example, on Tuesday said it will resume full campus operations Aug. 3.

Brian Hemphill, president of the public university in Virginia, in a message to faculty and staff members said the reopening would include campus housing and dining services. The university plans to resume in-person instruction on Aug. 24.

"I look forward to welcoming each and every one of you back to campus with all locations completely open and all services fully available for the Fall 2020 semester," Hemphill said in the statement. "We will overcome this unprecedented challenge together as one Radford family!"

Baylor University, George Fox University and Wheaton College in Massachusetts also this week announced plans to reopen their campuses and resume in-person instruction for the fall semester. James Madison University said it was planning to resume on-campus operations, Midwestern State University in Texas said its intent is to be "fully operational" this fall for in-person instruction.  

Radford’s move to resume operations on its campus, which enrolls roughly 9,300 students, will require the return of “select employees” prior to the June 10 scheduled lifting of the state’s shelter-in-place order, Hemphill said.

Compared to other institutions, the university included fewer caveats or hedges in its announcement.

However, Hemphill appeared to make some qualifications when he cited planning around "continued developments" in his letter.

"The health, safety, and well-being of you and your fellow Highlanders remain our top priority," he said. "As a result, we are working diligently on contingency planning to account for continued developments based on analysis and research by public health experts. Additionally, we are examining policies and procedures regarding social distancing protocol; personal protective equipment, or PPE, utilization; testing availability; classroom configuration; event size; etc."

Letter from Mitch Daniels

A handful of colleges made similar announcements last week, although less committed in their language than Radford’s.

For example, William Jewell College in Missouri announced its intention to reopen for in-person classes on Aug. 26. And Mitch Daniels, Purdue University’s president, last week in a letter described a plan for reopening in the fall, where the university would separate people by age and vulnerability while limiting class sizes.

More than 80 percent of those who live on and around Purdue’s campus are under age 35, Daniels said, noting that COVID-19 poses “close to zero lethal threat” to this age group.

“Purdue University, for its part, intends to accept students on campus in typical numbers this fall, sober about the certain problems that the COVID-19 virus represents, but determined not to surrender helplessly to those difficulties but to tackle and manage them aggressively and creatively,” Daniels wrote.

President Trump on Tuesday praised Purdue ("great school and a great state") for its stance on reopening the campus in West Lafayette, Ind. "I think that's correct," Trump said.

More colleges appeared to be following Daniels’s lead this week.

Dennis Hanno, president of Wheaton College, in Massachusetts, said the college intends to reopen for its first day of classes, on Sept. 1. But he said that date might be pushed back.

In his letter posted Tuesday, Hanno said the college would only allow a return to campus when guidance from public health experts will enable it to ensure the health and safety of the campus community.

“After significant discussion among our faculty and campus leadership, we have affirmed our intention to deliver an on-campus fall semester, whenever we can begin that semester, with the precautions in place that we will need to ensure the health and safety of the members of our community,” he wrote. “I look forward to seeing you -- here on campus -- as soon as that is possible.”

Baylor University also plans to reopen in the fall, with the caveat that its plans depend on a continued decline of cases in the area, as well as federal and state guidance.

The large Baptist research university in Texas announced Monday that it plans to reopen in five phases beginning in June.

“It is important to note, however, that we are not planning for a ‘normal start’ of the fall semester, given the lack of a treatment protocol or vaccine for COVID-19,” wrote Linda A. Livingstone, Baylor’s president. “The health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and guests must lead our decision-making regarding all activities. We are preparing to adapt our instructional and residential life models and on-campus activities, as needed, to protect our campus community while continuing to offer the distinct on-campus college experience for which Baylor is known.”

George Fox University, a Christian college located a half hour from Portland, Ore., on Monday said it plans to institute safety procedures over the summer to prepare for the fall. It is making personal protective equipment and will devise a strategy to keep residence halls safe. As a caveat, the college said it will follow the governor's mandates.

"COVID-19 may steal our comforts of routine, face-to-face interaction, and predictability, but the deepest danger is allowing COVID-19 to rob us of the next generation of innovators, nurses, counselors, teachers, artists, pastors, physical therapists, business leaders and social workers," the college said in a written statement.

Sierra College to Stay Online

Not all the college announcements crossing the transom this week were about plans to reopen.

Sierra College, a community college located outside Sacramento, said it is planning to stay online come fall to keep students and staff safe.

The college made the decision early so faculty could better prepare to continue online learning. If the novel coronavirus surges in the fall, as many researchers have said is a possibility, students can avoid once again quickly transition to online learning, the college said.

Sierra intends to find alternatives like hybrid learning for courses that cannot be fully remote.

"We understand this situation is not ideal for anyone, but we hope by making this decision early we can prepare better for the fall semester and continue to help our students complete their educational goals as best we can," the college tweeted.

-- Madeline St. Amour contributed to this article.

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