The University of South Florida plans a full return to campus this fall, with classes and activities resuming in person, USF president Steve Currall announced on Wednesday.
The university has been operating during the pandemic on a phased return plan with some courses meeting online only, others in-person and still others with a mix of both. About 58 percent of courses have some in-person component this semester. Other campus activities have been limited to online.
In a message to the USF community, Currall said the university would continue to offer online courses, as it did before the pandemic. He also said the university plans to increase in-person course offerings and campus activities over its two summer sessions, especially the latter session beginning June 28.
Plans could be modified, he said, based on changes in public health guidance.
“At all times, our path forward will continue to be guided by the scientific advice of our public health and infectious disease experts at USF, along with government agencies, and we will be ready to adjust to changing conditions if needed,” Currall said.
Faculty Senate president Tim Boaz said while many faculty have been concerned about the safety of teaching in person, reaction to the return was positive. Many faculty members have faced burn out, isolation, a disruption to their research and an increased workload from transitioning their courses online, he said.
“I know people will have some concerns about safety, but this is a welcome relief for many to get back to work,” said Boaz, who is also a member of the USF board of trustees.
While some faculty expressed concerns that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ amended vaccine orders did not extend to teachers at universities and colleges, Boaz said, he praised USF leaders for basing decisions on public health data.
“Assuming the variants don’t throw a whole monkey wrench into this, we’re on a pretty good trajectory and there’s a lot of good sound data to think they are able to do that,” he said. “They are listening carefully to public health experts.”
Art Shapiro, president of the USF faculty union, said he was cautiously optimistic.
“They’re hoping that the vaccinations will eliminate the infections, and I certainly hope so,” he said. “If it does, we’ll all celebrate. If not, there will be problems.”
Shapiro said he, like most faculty, prefer to teach in-person but have felt that, during the pandemic, teaching online has been the safer option.
“I much prefer teaching face-to-face; I think most teachers do,” he said. “Most people are people people. They like people. But we’re lucky we have computers to do this.”
He said he was reassured that the administration has said they will follow public health and expert guidance.
Donna Petersen, chair of the USF COVID-19 Task Force and dean of the USF College of Public Health, said in a news release that recent data has been encouraging.
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The numbers point to “an increasingly optimistic outlook for a return to more in-person activities sometime this summer and by the fall,” she said.
But she added a note of caution: “While it makes sense to plan for the summer and fall semesters now, in the coming months we must remain vigilant and committed to safe practices, including wearing face coverings and physical distancing, in order to get ahead of the virus and drive down the numbers more quickly.”
University spokesman Adam Freeman said in an email that USF would continue to offer vaccines, when they are made available, to students, faculty and staff, and members of their households who are eligible. The supply received by the university is limited, he said, and they anticipate many will receive the vaccine through non-USF providers.