Liberty U Resumes In-Person Classes

It acts despite hundreds of COVID-19 cases. Some of the other colleges that had moved online are also resuming normal operations.

September 13, 2021

Friday was the day for several colleges that recently went online -- due to the spread of COVID-19 -- to announce whether they were staying online or resuming normal operations.

Liberty and La Salle Universities, and the University of Texas at San Antonio are opening for standard in-person operations today. So are the Alamo Colleges, the community college district in San Antonio.

Liberty administrators acted despite having had nearly 1,000 COVID-19 cases this semester on campus in Lynchburg, Virginia (as of last week). (The figure may be higher this week).

"Liberty is resuming classes and indoor gatherings in a balanced way that both allows members of the campus community to select the university experiences they desire and respects the rights and responsibilities of individuals to make basic health decisions about vaccination and mask usage themselves," said a statement from the university.

And the university said in the statement that it "will continue to offer a digital instruction option for students for a period of time; special permission to attend virtually will not be required during this time."

While Liberty is encouraging, but not requiring social distancing and mask-wearing, "The university will continue to encourage social hygiene practices such as physical distancing and mask-wearing where helpful," said the statement.

Liberty has some student support for lifting the quarantine that has been in effect for the campus.

An undergraduate, Landon Nesbitt, started a petition that says: "We, Liberty students, feel that the university should deliver on its promises: in person learning. For many students the nature of freedoms that Liberty university encompasses (no masks required, in person lectures and teaching), is the very reason this university was chosen for higher education. This lockdown was unexpected and unwanted by the vast majority of the students here on campus. Therefore we the students request the ending of this lockdown."

More than 1,200 students have signed the petition.

However, the mayor of Lynchburg, MaryJane Tousignant-Dolan, told The Washington Post that she found Liberty's actions "alarming."

"I just think it's unconscionable that an institution as large as Liberty has not instituted some steps to keep not only their students safe and healthy, but the community in which they live," she said.

La Salle University in Pennsylvania said its decision -- to halt and restart in-person instruction -- was based on careful study of COVID-19 cases.

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"Our decision to deliver courses remotely was something none of us wanted," said a letter from Tim O'Shaughnessy, the interim president. "We made the move to go remote based upon a rapid rise in active cases, from four last Friday to nearly four dozen by Sunday. The speed of that increase and the risk of the potential spread concerned us. To better understand how the virus was spreading, we opted for a temporary, conservative approach that prioritized your health and our ability to preserve the rest of our semester in-person. This week, we conducted more than 625 tests and significant contact-tracing. This work allowed us to assess the type, pace, and extent of spread across campus. We have determined the spread is not only traceable, but manageable -- particularly when considering our community's high vaccination rate. We are confident it is safe to return to in-person learning."

A University of Texas at San Antonio statement said: "Based on the most recent data and consults with our advisors, including conversations yesterday, we understand that the most important leading indicators -- positive tests, positivity rates and new hospital admits -- have been decreasing here in Bexar County. Encouragingly, we appear to be past the peak of the COVID-19 Delta variant surge. Moreover, UTSA's contact tracing and quarantine management programs are in good shape, and the positivity rates within our Roadrunner community are below that of Bexar County. Finally, we can report our UTSA community vaccination rates as of last week: approximately 76 percent of faculty and staff and 62 percent of our students have gotten at least one vaccine dose. While this is positive news, we continue to encourage everyone in our Roadrunner community to get fully vaccinated."

Despite these moves, other colleges continue to go remote. Connecticut College went online just last week.

And a Texas A&M University student died of COVID-19 last week. The Eagle reported that Kirstyn Katherine Ahuero was a sophomore biomedical engineering major.


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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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