The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved plans Monday for the system’s eight UT academic institutions to offer in-person, online and hybrid courses in the fall, while taking numerous and extensive measures to protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.
However, given the changing dynamics of the coronavirus pandemic, which led institutions to pivot exclusively to online learning in March, each institution is prepared to quickly alter its plans and step back or close on-campus activities if conditions require it.
Board Chairman Kevin P. Eltife thanked the presidents for working closely with each other and the chancellor to develop comprehensive and nimble plans that prioritize the needs and health of students, faculty and staff.
“The UT presidents and their teams have taken a thoughtful approach to plan for all aspects of campus operations in the fall,” Eltife said. “The leadership at each campus has been exceptional through this challenging time, and all the presidents, Chancellor Milliken and System staff have the Board’s gratitude and support as they continue preparation for any eventuality.”
“This experience is unlike any we have faced before, but our institutions have responded to the challenge to fulfill our mission and help ensure the health and safety of our campus communities,” Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “Resiliency, flexibility, and adaptability are the keys to success this fall.”
John Zerwas, M.D., the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs, and David Lakey, M.D., chief medical officer and an expert in infectious diseases, have carefully reviewed each plan.
In addition, the UT System and all institutions are following all guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Governor Abbott’s Strike Force to Open Texas, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and local public health officials. Some institutions already have released their plans publicly on their respective websites, and others will do so in the days ahead.
Chancellor Milliken said the UT System has an obligation to students and to the state to plan for a campus presence in the fall, though it will be very different than any previous semester.
“We know from student surveys that if we do not open, many students will choose to pause their education,” Milliken said. “The most vulnerable students—low income, first generation, and underrepresented students—will be at the greatest risk of falling off the path to success.”
The plan for each academic institution is unique, depending on factors such as location, size, residential population, athletics, research and other factors.
The plans do have some common elements, including starting the semester in late August and ending most in-person academic experiences at Thanksgiving, followed by online learning through the end of the semester.
This is to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 through students leaving campus for an extended period and returning afterward.
Each institution’s plan includes details that address:
- phased and limited return of the workforce, with staggered arrival and departure times;
- continued remote work where possible;
- extended hours of building use to reduce density and pedestrian traffic;
- mandatory masks and physical distancing;
- testing protocols, isolation requirements and contact tracing;
- increased thorough cleaning and disinfecting regimens campus-wide;
- signage on movement and physical distancing within buildings and on campus grounds;
- physical barriers in offices, classrooms, and buildings;
- housing and dining restrictions;
- minimizing campus visitors;
- limiting large gatherings on campus;
- regulating athletic practices and events; and
- preparing for mental and emotional health issues.