Decision on University of Minnesota's fall semester expected in early June

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It is still unclear if students will head back to University of Minnesota campuses this fall. President Joan Gabel and other leaders held a virtual town hall on Wednesday to discuss the possibilities with students and faculty.

“We know and take very seriously how these decisions affect your lives,” said Gabel.

An advisory team has been working since April to develop different scenarios, ranging from relaxed social distancing to the possibility that a 'stay at home' order is still in place.

“For each of these scenarios, we’re developing recommendations specific to classroom utilization, labs and studios, housing and dining, student affairs and outreach and engagement,” said Provost Rachel Croson.

Croson said each has an emphasis on health.

“This includes individuals on campus self-monitoring their health regularly, providing testing when clinically indicated, contact tracing and facilities for isolation and quarantine,” said Croson.

Officials are also working on how to bolster cleaning on campus and reduce the number of students in classrooms. She said the adjustments could result in spacing out classes more during the day and potentially adding Saturday classes.

“We're especially considering adjustments to our academic calendar that can avoid students moving back and forth between campus and their family homes that we typically experience in the fall semester,” said Croson.

It’s a decision others across the country are grappling with. This week, Notre Dame announced it's bringing students back to campus in August in order to end the semester before Thanksgiving.

Croson told faculty and staff that the University of Minnesota may need to make special adjustments for those who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or are international students and unable to be on campus.

Gabel is expected to make a decision in early June. She said the university community will need to remain flexible over the next few months.

“If there’s another outbreak, if there’s a surge, if there are advances in the science and medical care and technology, all of those things could make anything we’re talking about evolve,” said Gabel.

Some faculty and researchers have been able to return to campus under the Sunrise Plan. University officials said during the town hall that about 1,000 applications have been approved for those who need to return to campus to work in labs, studios or other facilities.

Most university employees, however, are being urged to work from home.