The University of Virginia is developing plans for the fall semester that assume classes will begin on time in August and that in-person instruction will conclude by Thanksgiving.
UVA leaders shared those and other initial decisions Thursday in a message to the University community, outlining key assumptions about operations for the coming academic year while emphasizing that many details remain to be sorted out – all of which remain contingent upon the guidance of health experts and subject to changing conditions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Final decisions and additional details are expected to be announced in mid-June.
“We have been guided by our desire to offer an exceptional experience for our students and, at the same time, to safeguard the health and safety of the UVA and Charlottesville community,” said the message, which was signed by President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. K. Craig Kent.
A Fall 2020 Committee, formed in April and chaired by Magill, has spent weeks exploring issues and pursuing answers to key questions about the University’s upcoming academic year. The key issues have included:
- Determining the date by which a decision about the fall semester must be made.
- Identifying the safest date on which classes could resume on Grounds and what conditions might apply.
- Thinking about alternative academic calendars and options for classes.
- Looking at ways to support faculty in creating an amazing online experience.
- Considering the impact of these decisions on the University’s finances and operations.
The committee and UVA leadership also have sought input from the University community, including conducting surveys of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; holding a Faculty Senate virtual town hall; launching a faculty survey; and initiating plans for a staff town hall and survey.
In Thursday’s message, the UVA leaders said the current intention is to begin undergraduate courses on Aug. 25.
“Assuming state and federal public health guidelines allow, we are planning to have students back on Grounds and to hold in-person classes this fall,” the message indicated. “We are still trying to determine how many students we can have safely back on Grounds and living in dorms, and how many in-person classes we can host, given social distancing restrictions.”
Larger classes will remain online all semester, as will classes taught by faculty who have health concerns. Classes offered in-person, with the exception of some practicums, will also be available remotely, since some students will not be able to return to Grounds. Most students will have the option to remain home in the fall and participate in classes remotely. Most students also will continue to have options to defer enrollment or take a gap year.
To increase options and to ensure that all undergraduates can earn a full year’s worth of credits no matter how they begin the semester, the University is exploring an expansion of its January Term course offerings. It also is considering ways to allow students to stretch their classes across a longer period of time than the traditional academic calendar. Details on those considerations, as well as those for professional and graduate schools that might have unique requirements or constraints, will be coming later.
The University is planning to finish in-person instruction by Thanksgiving, after which students will not return to Grounds until the new year to minimize risks associated with travel back and forth to Charlottesville. Whether exams can be hosted on Grounds before Thanksgiving or offered remotely hasn’t been determined.
The University community message also promised plans for enhanced safety measures, including protocols for testing, tracing and isolating anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, as well as identifying spaces to quarantine on-Grounds residents exposed to those who have contracted COVID-19.
“We are also acquiring personal protective equipment – including masks – for students, faculty and staff. And we are developing social distancing guidelines, as well as norms and rules around these guidelines,” the message stated. “This includes making plans for managing dining halls, libraries and recreational facilities, as well as for ramping up scholarship and research – which we are preparing to do now.”
The message acknowledged there are risks associated with bringing students back to Grounds and emphasized the trust being placed in the entire University community.
“We also believe we should do our best to be open for students, for several reasons. One of UVA’s greatest strengths is our world-class residential learning experience – something that, as all of you know by now, cannot be fully replicated online,” the message said. “We also appreciate that learning remotely is much harder for some students than others, given different living arrangements, family circumstances, and family obligations. There is also no end in reasonable sight for this virus, which makes it even more imperative that we do our best to adapt.”
Additional updates concerning the framework for the upcoming semester will be announced in mid-June.