University of Vermont officials have released more details about their plan to resume in-person classes this fall, endorsing safety protocols that will dramatically alter how students live and learn on campus.
Among the more notable changes are a tweak to the university's academic calendar, a mask-wearing requirement and a push to thin out residence halls in the name of social distancing. The goal, university leaders say, is to preserve some aspects of the traditional academic experience while protecting employees and students from coronavirus outbreaks.
"While there is more work to do, I’m confident the framework will enable UVM to offer a high quality education to our students and a productive work setting for faculty and staff in an environment that puts their safety and well-being first," UVM president Suresh Garimella wrote in a message to the campus community Monday afternoon detailing the changes.
The typical college experience is antithetical to the concept of social distancing; students are often packed into tight classrooms and living quarters, and libraries and cafeterias welcome thousands through the door each day. So UVM and many other universities around the nation have looked for ways to mitigate the potential spread of the virus while still welcoming students back on campus.
An advisory committee of more than 50 UVM employees and students set out to grapple with that issue, offering a proposal that the university's board of trustees endorsed on Monday. The framework codifies strategies that UVM and city officials have publicly discussed in recent weeks.
The university will provide "safety kits" for employees and students that will include supplies such as hand sanitizer and facial coverings; masks must be worn whenever students or employees are outside "their private workspaces or residence hall rooms," Garimella wrote.
To cut down on the amount of time spent on campus, the university has decided to end in-person classes on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The last week of classes and final exams will be conducted remotely, as will any large annual gatherings — such as alumni and parent weekends — that typically attract visitors from out of state.
The university is also working to identify spaces where up to 50 students could quarantine or isolate if necessary, Garimella said. It also plans to connect students and employees with health screenings and testing sites using a yet-to-be-developed app, which can also help track their contacts if they become infected.
And to make it easier to socially distance, the university will offer a mix of in-person and remote learning for larger classes, while reducing the density of its residential halls.
Several major questions remain unanswered, such as how many students who would typically live on campus will be relocated under the plan. Officials are also still working on how to best meet the needs of faculty, staff and students with underlying health issues, Garimella wrote.
He added that the protocols would likely be "enhanced and fine-tuned throughout the summer" as more is learned about the virus. The university will hold virtual Q&A sessions with employees, students and their families next week.
"While many aspects of campus life will not be the same," Garimella wrote, "I look forward to welcoming our full community back to a vibrant reopened university in the fall.”