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From reopening to remote learning, here's what other colleges and universities are planning for the fall

There is a lot of buzz around Duke’s plans for the Fall semester. But what are other colleges and universities planning? 

Duke announced last week that students will be returning to campus this fall, with more concrete details, such as how many will return and what the calendar will look like, to be announced by the end of June. Meanwhile, the Team 2021 task force is working to guide planning for the next academic year, with a preliminary report planned for June 1.

While students wait to learn more details, many other institutions of higher education have announced plans, or at least set dates by which they will do so. The announced plans range from entirely remote instruction to a return to campus with a regular start date, with a variety of other options in the mix.

Start early, end before Thanksgiving

On May 21, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University announced their plans to begin the Fall 2020 semester earlier than anticipated.

Both schools will begin the semester Aug. 10 and finish in-person final exams before Thanksgiving. Students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving or have a fall break.

The same schedule has also been adopted by other notable institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, Rice University and Creighton University

Other institutions under the UNC System have announced different plans. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte announced May 4 that students will begin classes on Sept. 7, two weeks later than normal.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro will start on time and end face-to-face instruction before Thanksgiving with no fall break, but students will take most final exams online. The University of South Carolina and the University of Texas at Austin will follow the same protocol, though UT-Austin does not normally have a fall break.

Awaiting word from the Ivy League

Students from several Ivy League universities will have to wait until July to know the fate of their Fall semester.

Princeton University announced May 4 that the fall semester will proceed “as scheduled,” but students will find out in July whether instruction will be in person or online.

The university had originally considered postponing the start of the semester until later in the fall or January, but administrators decided against that plan. The semester will instead begin in September as per usual.

Harvard University also ruled out delaying the fall semester and announced that they will be “open for Fall 2020.” However, like Princeton, administrators are not sure how many people will return or if the semester will proceed virtually or in-person—an announcement that will take place “no later than July.”

The college also announced that plans for the fall semester are “likely to vary by school,” according to The Harvard Crimson. 

Students began a petition entitled #NoVirtualFall, asking Harvard to “postpone, rather than virtually begin, the fall semester if COVID19 conditions prevent the timely commencement of on-campus activities.” They cited several difficulties “vulnerable students” will face during online instruction, including poor WiFi and a lack of academic resources, and expressed concern about Harvard’s capability to support students remotely.

Yale University also plans to announce its decision about the fall semester by early July. President Peter Solovey told The Yale Daily News that Yale is “committed to welcoming students back to campus as soon as the public health situation warrants.”

Yale officials are still not certain as to the format of classes—in person, online or a hybrid model—but they have created six specialized COVID-19 contingency planning committees to help advise administrators.

In April, Brown University created the Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force to help plan for reopening the campus in the fall. They will collaborate with the Rhode Island School of Design, which anticipates holding the semester in person and starting at the usual time but is monitoring the situation before announcing plans by June 15.

The Brown Daily Herald reported that Brown President Christina Paxson is “cautiously optimistic” that students will be able to return to campus in the fall, but the task force will continue to monitor the situation and adjust plans accordingly.

In a New York Times op-ed piece published in April, Paxson wrote that reopening campuses in the fall “should be a national priority,” citing the “practical and psychological barriers” students face during virtual learning and the loss of revenue colleges will face if they remain closed.

“Our duty now is to marshal the resources and expertise to make it possible to reopen our campuses, safely, as soon as possible,” she wrote. “Our students, and our local economies, depend on it.”

Cornell University Provost Michael Kotlikoff similarly told students in April that the university hopes to resume normal campus operations.

“We remain hopeful that, working with public health and other scientific experts, we will be able to resume campus operations and welcome students back to our campuses for the start of the fall semester; however, it is simply too soon to make that guarantee,” he wrote in a statement.

Cornell has created created four planning committees to assist in the decision-making process and plan how to “accommodate faculty, staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19” upon return to campus.

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger announced April 23 that the university will “be proceeding with the 2020-21 academic year.” Further details will be rolled out over the next two months, the update read.

The University of Pennsylvania plans to combine in-person and remote learning for the fall semester, depending on “Penn’s capacity for testing, contact tracing, and isolation of COVID-19 positive individuals,” according to The Daily Pennsylvanian. The university has established a Recovery Planning Group to figure out when students should return to campus.

Some schools plan for in-person instruction

While some institutions are merely hopeful for an in-person semester, other colleges and universities appear more confident in their students’ return.

New York University announced Tuesday that the university plans to hold in-person classes in the fall. Officials also worked to develop programs for students who may not be able to return to New York, such as “Go Local,” which allows students to study at the campus nearest to the country in which they hold citizenship or residency.

However, NYU Provost Katherine Fleming noted that some courses or parts of courses may only be offered online, especially for large, lecture-style classes. The university is also developing a plan for “students to spread their classes out over two or three semesters in 2021 without an additional tuition cost,” the NYU Local reported.

In a memo from Boston College President William P. Leahy, the college announced Tuesday that it plans to reopen the campus for in-person instruction as scheduled on Aug. 31. The college is considering how to implement physical distancing and food distribution protocols, increase sanitization in buildings and use technology for meetings and events, the memo noted. Additionally, Leahy wrote that the college’s University Health Services has developed testing and isolation procedures that will continue to be refined. 

Boston University President Robert Brown said that the school is “starting to see a vision of fall emerge,” according to a news release. The university is developing efforts for students to safely return to campus, including using specialized robots in the school’s labs to test students and faculty as well as emphasizing “contact tracing, social distancing, hygiene, and isolation and treatment for those infected.”

However, unlike its neighbors, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is still uncertain about how to proceed.

In April, the university’s Team 2020—a group of administrators and faculty—proposed five potential plans for the fall. The plans included conducting the entire semester remotely to delaying in-person instruction by six weeks. Another discusses splitting the academic year into three semesters, where students attend two in-person and one remotely in an effort to ease the population on campus at once. No proposal indicates an in-person semester beginning at the regular start date. 

Tufts University is preparing for a hybrid model due to the fact that it must accommodate both students eager to return to campus and international students who may not be able to return.

“For that purpose, the faculty are thinking in their departments how they will teach courses, but it will have to have some part of a hybrid model in order to cater to at least the lectures in some classes that are large, which we also may be restricted in delivering on campus—it depends on what the final guidance is,” Tufts President Anthony Monaco told The Tufts Daily.

UC Schools anticipate openings, Cal State set to close

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday that “every campus will be open and offering instruction,” according to a news release by The Mercury News.

Like Tufts, she added that she “anticipates that most, if not all of our campuses, will operate in some kind of hybrid mode.” This would combine online and in-person instruction in a way that reduces the number of large lecture courses where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is particularly high.

Once each campus meets certain requirements for testing, contact tracing and isolation, it can make the decision whether to make the semester fully remote or return students to campus. These decisions can be expected in mid-June.

California State University announced May 12 that its 23 campuses will stay online in the fall.  It was the “first large American university” to keep students at home for the upcoming semester, according to the New York Times.

According to the Times, Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White said that the “risks were too great” for the Cal States’ 480,000 total undergraduate students to return to campus.

Stanford University, which operates under a quarter system rather than semester, also intends to release information in June. The Stanford Daily reported that the university will “resume on-campus operations in phases,” starting with faculty vital to research and “other priority activities.”

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify that the Rhode Island School of Design has not made a final decision about the Fall semester and will announce plans by June 15.

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