A Middle Tennessee State University COVID-19 task force recommends ending classes for the Fall 2020 semester at Thanksgiving, stringent social distancing protocols and reduced classroom capacity limits when students return to campus in August.
Formed by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and led by University Provost Mark Byrnes, the 34-member task force created a series of recommendations to allow students, faculty and staff to return to on-ground, in-person courses in some capacity and in accordance with the latest public health guidelines.
“The task force proposes a modified reopening, in which some courses occur on-ground with social distancing, some remain online, and some are delivered in a hybrid format,” Byrnes wrote in the task force’s report submitted to McPhee this week. “This approach seeks to minimize risk while we continue to pursue our educational mission as best we can.”
The task force includes a mix of faculty, staff, students and community members. Its full report can be found at mtsu.edu/covidtaskforce.
Like other universities, MTSU switched to remote learning in mid-March and will continue doing so through the summer as on-campus events remain canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force emphasizes that the university may need to quickly return to a remote environment this fall if public health guidance dictates due to case spikes or hotspots in or near the campus community.
Students returning to campus in the fall will be welcomed by a host of signage and instructions related to social distancing, hand-washing, face coverings and other public health precautions. Many classrooms will only hold one-third to one-half as many students as before, while some building spaces not traditionally used for classes will be opened up for instructional use to comply with distancing guidelines.
Details on how specific courses and classroom spaces will operate will be developed at the academic department and college level in line with the nature of the course work.
“We are committed to maintaining educational quality while providing as safe of an academic experience as possible when our students and faculty return to our campus,” McPhee said. “The excellent work of this task force provides an invaluable road map in our journey toward doing just that.”
The task force recommends that the fall semester be shortened and that students not return to campus following the Thanksgiving break to reduce the potential for spreading the virus. All finals will be taken remotely, and the three in-person class days that will be lost will be made up by eliminating fall break and holding class on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Among other guidance, the task force recommends that priority for available on-campus space be given to courses that require more hands-on instruction such as art studio, science labs, audio production and music performance. The task force also offers recommendations on how changes to housing, on-campus events, and student services might reduce population density on campus.
The university also will develop COVID-19 testing, isolation and personal protective equipment protocols upon student return, and a temporary attendance policy would be established that encourages sick students to stay home while providing access to course materials for those who cannot come to campus.
MTSU on April 30 became the first public university in Tennessee to announce its intent to resume campus activities and instruction for the fall.
Although remote instruction will continue through the summer, McPhee recently announced a phased-in return-to-work beginning June 16 for faculty and staff who have been working remotely. Faculty also have training opportunities throughout the summer to improve their remote teaching skills for fall courses and beyond.
“As we return to campus, the life of the university may look, sound, and feel different than it was before the pandemic. What has not changed is our commitment to student success and the success of all other members of the MTSU community,” Byrnes said.
Follow updates on MTSU’s response to coronavirus at https://www.mtsu.edu/coronavirus/.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)