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University of Tampa plans to reopen with mostly in-person classes

The decision has drawn criticism from some students, many from out of state, who note the coronavirus' continued spread in Florida.

The University of Tampa is preparing to reopen earlier than initially planned and with mostly face-to-face classes, a decision that is drawing criticism from some students.

While faculty members considered to be at high risk for contracting the coronavirus were able to request the ability to teach remotely, all other classes will be offered with some type of face-to-face component, dean for students Stephanie Krebs said.

“We’re really committed to offering that high-quality education,” she said. “We’re hearing many students, particularly high school students who ended school in the pandemic, are yearning to come to college in a traditional way.”

Classes will start Aug. 26 instead of the originally scheduled date of Sept. 8, in order for the first semester to end before Thanksgiving. Students will take final exams online after the holiday. The change is aimed at controlling the virus’ spread by cutting down on travel to and from campus.

Several students have taken to social media in recent days, describing the university’s position on in-person classes as unfair and a risk to their health.

Lisa Striffolino, a sophomore majoring in communications, said she doesn’t feel safe returning to campus and is considering taking a semester off if she can’t take courses online.

“Florida is COVID-capital USA right now,” she said. “The university can’t control what each student does either.”

Amanda Thompson, a senior majoring in communications, said she’s disappointed in the university. She’s in Maine right now and said she didn’t feel confident enough in the reopening plan to renew her housing contract.

“It’s $8,000 I wouldn’t be getting back,” she said. “It was a very, very hard decision.”

Thompson said she’s frustrated about the way the university has communicated the plan to students. She’s two semesters away from graduating, but said she also might take a semester off if she can’t take her courses all online.

She said she emailed her professors to ask if classes would have any online option and said some weren’t sure.

“I’m 2,500 miles away and I don’t know what’s happening,” Thompson said. “I really want to graduate on time, but I’m between a rock and a hard place.”

Frank Ghannadian, dean of the university’s Sykes College of Business, said the school reopening in person will have a measurable effect on the city’s economy.

“Let’s say that UT decided to close the residential aspect and say, ‘We’re doing distance learning,’” he said. “Out of our 10,000 (students), I’d say 60 percent are from out of state, another 20 percent are international. You’d have a big effect of people not coming back here and not spending money. That’s going to hurt Tampa a lot. So we’re doing our part, I think, in terms of helping the economy.”

Though most classes will be in-person, classrooms and other parts of the campus will look different to accommodate social distancing. Ballrooms will be converted to instructional spaces and schedules will be staggered to keep classes smaller. Classrooms will be outfitted to offer remote instruction to students who are not in classes those days.

Dorm life will be different as well: no outside visitors are allowed, and common spaces could have limited capacity. The university also added a clause saying it would not be refunding any costs for closing early or removing a student if they had to isolate or quarantine because of COVID-19.

Students who return to campus won’t be required to be tested, though all students, faculty and staff will be required to complete a daily symptom tracking survey.

International students will be required to quarantine for 14 days.