U of M moving forward with in-person student plans for fall semester

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The University of Minnesota is moving forward with plans to resume in-person classes in the fall. 

"I know this has been a source of some confusion," said University Provost Rachel T.A. Croson during a Board of Regents meeting Thursday. "Our proposal is not that all instruction will occur in person, it is that some instruction will occur."

The board approved a list of recommendations Friday that includes in-person instruction, opening residence halls and dining areas, and possibly extending class schedules. Social distancing may require smaller class sizes. To address the limitations that may present, some classes may start earlier in the morning, end later at night or include Saturdays.

The university acknowledged plans for fall classes are still fluid.

"A high-flex model is one example where a rotating portion of the class is in person each day while others are online," Croson explained. "Or perhaps all students will watch a lecture online while half attend one day and half another (day) to engage in discussion."

At this point, the university estimates 20 to 40% of fall semester classes would be in person.

The current plan calls for ending in-person instruction by Thanksgiving and finish any remaining coursework remotely.

There had been some discussion about starting the school year early to make up for the missed time. That will only be the case at the Morris campus. The Twin Cities campus is still scheduled for a Sept. 8 start.

Other changes to campus life include: food service for pickup only, limiting each dorm room to one or two students and designating spaces for quarantine in residence halls or nearby hotels if students are exposed to the virus or get sick themselves. 

Specifics regarding residence hall occupancy rates, dining hall hours of use and manner of service, operations of recreation centers, student affairs activities and other events are all contingent on public health guidance and will be further developed and shared over the summer. 

When asked about sororities and fraternities, University President Joan Gabel said, "The Greek houses are actually run by the Greek organization, so they would communicate directly with the public health experts and develop their own plans."

Gabel said wearing a mask will be "strongly encouraged" on campus, although not mandatory unless public health recommendations change.

University leaders said they plan to be flexible, knowing some students and staff may prefer to continue distance learning. They said there will be a spectrum of options for classes, from entirely in-person, to fully remote or a combination of the two. Faculty will develop course material that can be delivered across these options so students and instructors with health concerns or other challenges will be able to continue coursework with minimal disruption. Planning for instruction across formats will also allow for ongoing course delivery even if public health guidance changes. Tuition rates will not change.

"Tuition is set by the board and has already been approved," Gabel said. "We have held tuition flat and didn't increase tuition for the first time in quite some time as a reflection of the demands that are on some of our families. We have emergency funds available for students who are experiencing grave financial impact as a result of all the circumstances. Some of that was donated philanthropically, some of that is federal and some of it comes from internal resources so that students who are really facing a financial barrier, we would address that in that way."

The university said registration for the fall semester is down less than 1% across all of its campuses from this time last year.

The fall semester recommendations will be up for final approval next month.