The University of South Florida announced Wednesday that it will start some fall classes in-person, then move them online again after students and faculty travel for Thanksgiving break, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Classes will start in-person on Aug. 24 and continue through Nov. 25. Instruction will resume online for the week of Nov. 30, and final exams will be online-only Dec. 5 through Dec. 10, when the semester ends.
Labor Day and Veterans’ Day holidays remain in place, but students are discouraged from traveling, according to a USF news release.
“The adjustments will reduce the number of students, faculty and staff who would normally come back to USF campuses and the surrounding communities within the Tampa Bay region following Thanksgiving," the release stated.
University spokeswoman Althea Paul said the school will put precautions in place to “support a healthy environment" during in-person classes.
“These modifications may include requiring face coverings, enhancing cleaning protocols and following public health guidelines, such as recommendations for social distancing and limiting the number of individuals gathered in any one area," she said in a statement. "We are still developing the details of our plans for the fall and we’ll be providing more information in the coming weeks.”
Ray Arsenault, a professor and the faculty senate president at USF St. Petersburg, praised the decision in an interview Wednesday. He said universities across the country are considering similar schedule changes.
Arsenault is one of the faculty members who worked with USF administration to come up with a plan for the fall that would keep education going but also keep students and professors safe, he said. Some voiced concerns about the university hosting face-to-face classes at all, but settled for a middle-ground solution.
“There’s a substantial number of faculty who think it’s a mistake to go back to face-to-face classes,” Arsenault said. “They feel it’s being driven by politics tied to Donald Trump and the effort to get him reelected. ... Gov. DeSantis is pushing us to go back to normal as quickly as possible."
Arsenault said he feels okay about teaching in person. He has one class with few students that he could distance in a larger classroom. Still, he’s 72 and diabetic, so he worries about his vulnerability to the coronavirus.
Other professors, like his 77-year-old colleague who teaches classes with upward of 30 and 40 students, worry even more, he said.
Arsenault said USF president Steve Currall has been reasonable in listening to faculty concerns. “He wants to do the right thing,” the professor said, adding that he expects USF to allow faculty who feel uncomfortable teaching in person to keep classes online.
“I appreciate it’s a difficult problem and they’re trying to work it out,” Arsenault said. “But I hope they will make decisions with caution and prioritize the safety of their faculty and students and not buckle under undue political pressure.”
Students were slow to respond to the news online. A couple tweeted about it, with one suggesting that USF make the entire semester remote. “People will be returning and not quarantining after summer break too,” wrote @MickiKMouse.
Andrea Rodriguez Campos, governor of the St. Petersburg campus, said the USF administration has been working with student leaders, and so she hopes students voice their concerns to student government. In the meantime, she’s watching for updates from health officials.
“My comfort level is decided by what the CDC and official guidelines coming out say,” she said. “My comfort level changes day by day depending on what I’m reading in the news."