Campus reentry update: UA president clarifies phases for attending in-person classes amidst concerns from academic coalition
Following an email from Provost Liesl Folks, University of Arizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins provided more detail on the length and structure of each phase of reopening in-person classes at the weekly campus reentry briefing Thursday, July 30.
Robbins said that while classes will begin on schedule Aug. 24, over the first two weeks of the semester, students will gradually return to their in-person courses.
In the first week-long stage, the campus will only see students with performance-based, laboratory-based or other classes requiring hands-on learning will be back in physical classrooms, which would see about 5,000 students on campus at its peak, according to Robbins.
“This will allow us to more control the environment, and we will see how in-person modality is working and how we might improve over that first week,” Robbins said.
In the second week, Robbins said approximately 14,000 students would be back in classrooms and will include classes of less than 30 students and flex in-person courses.
By Sept. 8, the start of the third week of classes, the university will be fully open for all courses that include an in-person element, according to Robbins. This would bring the campus to 25,000 to 30,000 students attending in-person classes, its anticipated maximum for the semester. However, Robbins said university administration will not know the exact amount of students on campus until the third week of school when tuition is no longer refundable.
“If we see any issues, we will adjust,” Robbins said. “We will shut this down.”
He said the university will continue to monitor local trends of COVID-19 cases to determine if or when the university would need to go completely online once again.
To determine in what modality a class will be taught, visit the UAccess Student Center and check the course schedule, where each course will be marked individually as being one of the four teaching modes.
Additionally, by the first day of class, “campus services will be available,” which include dining services, libraries and certain Student Recreation Center programs, Robbins said.
He also clarified that all dorms will be open at and even slightly before the beginning of the semester.
“Students planning to live on campus who have tested negative for COVID-19 will be in their rooms,” Robbins said.
On their move-in day, students must arrive to McKale Center first to receive a rapid antigen test, and they will be given their test results “within an hour,” according to Robbins. Students with a positive result will have to delay moving into the dorms at least 10 days. During that 10-day period, a student may stay in the isolation dorm — Babcock Residence Hall — or return home.
Reentry Task Force Director Dr. Richard Carmona also briefly presented COVID-19 statistics from Arizona, Pima County and a few other states around the U.S. as a comparison. According to Carmona, the trends have prompted “cautious optimism.”
“These numbers shouldn’t give us any sense of complacency,” Carmona said. “There’s risk in getting up out of bed every morning, and the fact is that we are doing everything we can to make this the safest campus possible, but a lot of it relies on the behaviors of all the faculty, staff and students on campus.”
Carmona said the UA will continue to track resource use within the surrounding communities and work with them “to be able to use those resources as necessary” should a student need more intensive medical attention.
“We’re all responsible for this 1.1 million people that are in Pima County,” Carmona said.
As reentry moves forward, the Coalition for Academic Justice at UArizona, a group of university employees that formed in response to the UA’s furlough plan announced in April, criticized the reentry plan for being “incomplete and vague.”
In a letter hand-delivered to Robbins Thursday morning, the coalition stated the reentry plan “fails to require compliance with public health mitigation, specifies that 50% of courses be offered face-to-face, and invites thousands of students to come on campus for classes, activities, and dormitory living,” according to a CAJUA press release.
The letter includes over 1,200 signatures from graduate students, faculty, staff and “other supporters,” which CAJUA said were gathered in less than five days.
In the press release, CAJUA also said Eller College of Management had shared an alternative financial plan with the UA’s senior leadership, which they found to be “more compassionate and humane than the UA administration’s plan,” but has not yet been publicly addressed.
Robbins acknowledged the letter in Thursday’s briefing and specifically responded to the concerns for vulnerable populations expressed in the letter.
“I hear you,” Robbins said. “The concerns about our most vulnerable students, faculty and staff were absolutely in our plan. We’re trying our best to provide the maximum protection we can for everyone, particularly are most vulnerable and marginalized populations.”
He also said the university was continuing to work on their financial plan and incorporating input from CAJUA and the Faculty Senate.
“We are going to hear a formal proposal from the faculty senate group … that has been assigned to work with Lisa Rulney in the finance office … on Monday,” Robbins said.
“We have a difference of opinion about how that should go forward,” Robbins said. “The coalition has articulated that the furlough plan needs to be reduced, but the fact is, we have a shortfall in funding.”
Robbins said they are looking for other options to “defer some of the pain,” but if those are not successful, there will be budget cuts that could result in layoffs of some of the university’s more vulnerable employees.
“This furlough plan has always been to try to preserve as many jobs as we can, realizing that there would invariably be some layoffs,” Robbins said. “The furlough plan keeps people in their jobs, keeps their benefits, it does reduce their salary a bit, but we think that it’s a fair and equitable furlough plan, and we’re going to listen to the coalition and [the Faculty Senate] and we’ll modify the furlough plan based on our discussions.”
To view the full reentry briefing, visit the UA’s YouTube channel.
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