Some states are moving slowly towards reopening their economies while others are moving more quickly to reopen.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Nothing beats the campus experience at Purdue University, not even the coronavirus. Thats what officials at the Indiana university are hoping anyway, with President Mitch Daniels floating plans to reopen campus for in-person classes in the fall while saying the COVID-19 virus poses close to zero lethal threat to young people.
Purdue was among the first wave of colleges to announce a shift from in-person classes in early March, leaving students, faculty and staff to adapt quickly to an online setting by transitioning course material and operating online video platforms like Zoom for classes and meetings.
Now, as some states move to reopen non-essential businesses and boost the economy, Purdue and Daniels are at the forefront of efforts to put students back on campus for the fall.
Purdue president Mitch Daniels has floated a plan to reopen campus in the fall, putting the university at the forefront of efforts to return to in-person classes. “We have every intention of being on campus this fall,” he said.
(Photo: Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier)
I can tell you for the moment, there is strong, strong interest for a Purdue education for this fall, Daniels told the university Senate Monday. We have every intention of being on campus this fall. We are sober about the challenges that will bring. We believe in the value of the on-campus experience, and were determined, if were permitted to do so by the public authorities and medical circumstances. If at all possible, we intend to be open and operating.
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Daniels, a two-term Republican governor in Indiana, was appointed as president of Purdue in 2012. Under his tenure, tuition has been frozen at the public land-grant institution in West Lafayette, Indiana, and enrollment has surged from 39,256 students in 2012 to just under 45,000 last fall.
That growing enrollment at a time many schools are experiencing or fearing a decline puts Purdue in a strong position to consider reopening, Daniels said, but theres no time to wait to start developing those plans.
If were going to do this immensely difficult undertaking, we dont want to sit and wait and watch for two months, Daniels said.
“Literally, our students pose a far greater danger to others than the virus poses to them.”
Purdue President Mitch Daniels
In his letter, Daniels outlined a number of preliminary practices that would allow the school to reopen in August, most of them aimed at keeping the universitys younger population separate from older demographic groups that are more at risk from the virus. Literally, our students pose a far greater danger to others than the virus poses to them, he wrote.
Among the measures he proposed:
- Spreading out classes across days and times to reduce their size;
- More online instruction for on-campus students;
- Allowing or requiring people more at risk to the virus to work remotely;
- Pre-testing students and staff for infection and post-infection immunity and using the Purdue laboratory to ensure fast results;
- Tracing contacts for those who test positive and asking contacts to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Some worry the president’s push to reopen Purdue in the fall could put students and staff at risk. Mitch Daniels minimized the threat, saying the COVID-19 virus “poses close to zero lethal threat” to young people.
(Photo: Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier)
Reaction to Daniels announcement has been mixed. Some took to social media to express their eagerness for a return to normalcy, while others accused Daniels of trivializing the effects of the COVID-19 virus on students.
Mitch Daniels, leader of Purdue and the new Purdue South Bend high school, is willing to endanger our lives based on false information and an immoral valuing of economy over human life, one Twitter user wrote.
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University Senate Chair Cheryl Cooky raised concerns about the potential risk for faculty and staff in light of warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about a second wave of coronavirus in the fall and winter.
While there are still many questions yet to be answered, Cooky said in a statement, I am confident in the leadership of Purdue and our shared commitment to maintaining the safety of our community while ensuring the best education for our Purdue students.
A number of difficulties come with restarting a campus with a population larger than some towns, said Jeremy Adler, health officer for Tippecanoe County.
Im a bit surprised the decision came so early, Adler said. That being said, if its going to be done, it needs to be done very carefully, and more than likely Purdue will need to make significant modifications to its day-to-day operations.
Casseiy Graham walks by a statue of Thomas Clemson near Tillman Hall at Clemson University. She is planning to take online classes and live in off-campus housing this summer. Returning the college to in-person classes by fall is the university’s “laser focus,” one school official said last week.
(Photo: Ken Ruinard / staff)
Other colleges that say they intend to hold regular classes in the fall or are developing plans to do so include Santa Clara University in California, the University of Missouri and Clemson University in South Carolina.
In a presentation to Clemsons board of trustees on Thursday, Clemson officials said they were planning for three scenarios for the fall, including a full return to in-person classes.
Clemson has been holding classes online this semester, and the campus is partially closed until Aug. 8. Continuing with the online learning is also an option for the fall, along with a hybrid of online and in-person classes.
But a return to in-person classes for the fall is the universitys laser focus, university police chief Greg Mullen told board members via the online meeting platform Zoom.
Mullen and Clemsons emergency operations center staff are putting together a critical timeline that a university spokesman said they are hoping to present sometime next week.
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Taking the opposite approach is California State University Fullerton, which announced Tuesday it would begin the fall semester with online classes only.
Many more schools are still weighing their options. For example, the University of Tennessee formed a task force to prepare options that will be presented in May to its chancellor; Ohio State University created a post-pandemic operations task force but has not shared any recommendations; University of Texas at Austin officials said the school will make a decision in late June; and schools in the University of Wisconsin system will wait until mid-July.
The risk schools face was made clear after Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. opened the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus following its spring break. Falwell had been dismissing other colleges response to the coronavirus as irresponsible.
After news coverage of Falwells decision and a subsequent outbreak of cases in the region, he sought arrest warrants for trespassing against two journalists. A Liberty student filed a class action lawsuit in federal court claiming the school and Falwell had placed students in danger.
Zoe Nicholson of The Greenville News in South Carolina contributed to this report.
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