After three months of virtual classes and campus closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some University of Wisconsin System institutions have begun laying out plans to reopen this summer with a goal of holding in-person classes this fall.
While a formal decision about the fall semester from the UW System Administration Office won't be announced until July 10, individual campuses are providing tentative guidance for faculty, staff and students.
UW System President Ray Cross said "ubiquitous" testing will be needed at the state's universities and branch campuses to ensure students and employees are comfortable returning to in-person learning this fall.
After students were told to stay home after spring break to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it was announced UW campuses lost an estimated $170 million in revenues due to things like housing refunds and canceled sporting events. That loss grew to an estimated $212 million to take into account projected revenue losses through the summer semester after campuses moved more classes online.
As information from campuses becomes available, WPR will be updating this roundup regarding how campuses are addressing reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a press release issued Thursday, May 14, UW-Green Bay Chancellor Michael Alexander said he plans to open the university’s main campus along with two-year branch campuses in Marinette, Manitowoc and Sheboygan on Wednesday, July 1.
"As a result of our work leading up to the virus, furloughs in May and June, promising signs on the enrollment front, and the work of our task force groups, we intend to reopen our campuses on July 1 to continue preparing for the fall semester," Alexander said. "We will still encourage telecommuting where possible and will have protocols in place for those employees working on site, but will lift general restrictions on faculty and staff being on campus."
The release said UW-Green Bay's Cofrin Memorial Arboretum is also expected to open to the public July 1.
In an interview with WPR, Alexander said the campus plans to hold both in-person and online classes this fall.
"So, in essence, the university will be entirely hybrid and we'll be nimble for the fall so that we can be able to react quickly should circumstances change," Alexander said.
UW-River Falls plans to return to in-person classes this fall "to the greatest extent possible," according to a press release issued Thursday, May 14. The announcement said the campus is among hundreds of colleges and universities across the United States facing a "time-sensitive decision on its approach to course delivery for fall semester."
"With the health and safety of its students, faculty and employees a top priority, UWRF will follow city, county, state and federal guidelines in decisions regarding class size, health and safety protocols, campus living and dining and protections for vulnerable students, faculty and employees," the announcement stated. "The university’s fall 2020 back-to-class plan will also be subject to approval by the Pierce and St. Croix County public health departments."
The release said because the COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation, campus leaders "will be prepared to modify plans to accommodate needs of students and instructors as the pandemic evolves."
The announcement said a formal decision on the fall semester is not expected until early July.
In an email to campus Thursday, May 14, UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow announced the campus would begin a phased approach to reopening campus following the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that struck down most of Gov. Tony Evers’ "Safer at Home" order, which banned gatherings of more than 10 people.
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Gow said through the rest of May, only essential personnel would be allowed on campus and that employees and vendors would be expected to follow COVID-19 workplace protocols including symptom checks, wearing face masks and social distancing.
Beginning June 1, Gow said non-essential employees would be given access to campus buildings with supervisor approval. On July 20, faculty and students involved in face-to-face summer classes will be given access to classrooms "if face-to-face courses go forward."
The UW System Administration Office has said it will make a decision about in-person classes by July 10.
The final phase, said Gow, would allow non-essential personnel into campus buildings without approval of supervisors, but no timeline has been given.
In a blog post Monday, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced campus administrators were planning a phased approach to reopening in preparation for the fall semester. She said the fall semester and spring of 2021 would likely be a hybrid mix of online and in-person classes.
"Larger lectures will almost surely be offered remotely, but we hope to offer face-to-face section meetings for students who can attend," said Blank. "We need to make a substantial share of the curriculum available remotely. At the same time, we should try to give as many students a small class/discussion experience as possible, whether in-person or online, to foster the learning and connections that small groups are so well-suited to provide."
Blank said leaders were also looking into possible changes for students in residence halls and dining facilities but did not elaborate in her post. She said changes were also in store for campus employees.
"For some faculty and staff who may face particular health risks, this may mean working from home for much of the next year, if that is possible," Blank said.
Blank called the task of reworking how classes are offered at the state’s largest campus "enormously complicated” and said a formal reopening plan would be released by the end of July.
Editor's note: Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Educational Communications Board.