When the coronavirus began to spread across the United States, millions of students were displaced from their college campuses and left to engage with their professors, advisers, and classmates through Zoom and other online platforms. California State University, Fullerton announced on April 21 that they will be moving their fall semester completely online, becoming one of the first universities in the U.S. to officially declare this. This announcement has prompted many students in California and across the country to wonder whether their school might do the same.
At the Foghorn, we believe that USF should wait to make their decision and, at least for now, plan on students physically returning to campus in August. Because the situation is changing so quickly and new information is being released about COVID-19 nearly every day, it would be premature to make a decision that affects thousands of individuals this far in advance.
However, we also acknowledge that at a certain point, a decision does need to be made so that students, faculty, and staff can make arrangements. For example, if classes are moved online for the fall, many students will need to cancel their apartment leases before it’s too late. Additionally, some students may be considering taking a leave of absence in the fall if classes move online again, and they would need enough time to prepare.
While most of us would greatly prefer having in-person classes, we are aware that the virus will not simply disappear by the time August rolls around, and bringing students from different cities, states, and countries together may put our community at risk. And although we would prefer to be back in Gleeson, reading in the plaza, and eating in the cafeteria with our friends, there is a good chance that things won’t return to normal until a vaccine comes out. We recognize that the health and safety of our community should be prioritized above all, and commuting on Muni, living on a floor with 50 other students, or crowding into a lecture hall don’t seem like the best ideas.
Even if we do return to campus in August, significant adjustments would need to be made in order to limit transmission. Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE) has already announced that there will be no triple rooms in residence halls next year. We would likely see smaller class sizes, and other similar changes.
Depending on how safe it is to return to campus in the fall, USF may also consider a hybrid class format, or having certain performance or lab-based classes meet in person and putting larger, lecture-style classes online. That way, some students may return to campus if necessary, but many will be able to learn from home or from within their residence hall or off-campus housing. In any case, we will need flexibility in order to accommodate those who are immunocompromised or are living with vulnerable family members, as well as those unable to travel back to campus.
If we do have the difficult outcome of an online semester in the fall, we hope that USF uses the summer to restructure courses to fit online instruction. Many students have experienced growing pains this semester because the courses they are currently taking were not designed to be online, and care should be taken to ensure that future online courses are more organized and run smoothly.
As a staff, we think USF should be considering all options, and that those in charge of these decisions need to be transparent with the student body throughout the process. Even if administration can’t provide definitive answers yet, we should be made aware of where they are in their talks about moving the fall semester online, who they’re consulting, and the likelihoods of different possibilities. We would also want transparency around tuition plans, such as whether the costs for things like the transportation fee, student events, and other on-campus experiences will be eliminated from the cost of attendance.
As a whole, although we would love to be back in the newsroom next fall, we recognize that university administration may ultimately decide that being online is the safest and best option for the entire community. However, we hope that USF takes a reasonable amount of time to thoroughly explore all options, consult with public health experts, and consider all factors before reaching a final decision.