Tulane to begin fall semester Aug. 19th, eliminating fall break and increasing social distancing practices

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Gabby Abrams, News Editor

Tulane University students will be welcomed back to campus on Wednesday, Aug. 19, five days earlier than originally scheduled, and the semester will continue in person until Tuesday, Nov. 24, President Mike Fitts announced in today’s letter to the Tulane community.

This announcement follows Fitts’ creation of six reopening committees, announced May 1, who have worked diligently to generate a plan for the fall semester. The six committees Coordinating Committee, Education, Facilities and Campus Operations, Health Strategy, Housing, and Workforce Resumption are composed of university leaders, students, faculty and staff. The goal of these committees was to gather information in order to make recommendations for the university that aligned with developing health standards as well as students’ best interests. A summary of the committees’ recommendations was posted to the university website on May 28. These recommendations and university plans are subject to change as best practices for COVID-19 continue to develop with increasing data.

Education

The fall semester will follow an altered academic calendar as suggested by the Education Reopening Committee and approved by the University Senate Committee on Educational Policy. The semester will begin on Wednesday, Aug. 19 and continue until Nov. 24 with most final exams occurring online in the week following Thanksgiving. This consolidated semester plan has become a popular choice amongst universities across the country. University of South Carolina, Notre Dame, Rice and Creighton made similar decisions to shorten their fall semesters. Neighboring Loyola University of New Orleans also made the decision that students will go home prior to Thanksgiving and are offering a January term for students who require additional credits to remain on track for graduation.

Reducing a “second wave” of infections that is expected in late fall as well as aiming to limit travel for students 85% of Tulane students live over 300 miles away were considerations in the decision making process behind an accelerated semester.

Additional changes to the academic calendar include the addition of a Saturday or Sunday class date to replace a missed Thursday meeting time, holding two contingency weekends of classes in the event of possible closings, and holding class on Yom Kippur, Monday Sept. 28, and Oct. 8-9, which was previously scheduled to be fall break. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish faith and observed by many of the university’s large percentage of Jewish students.

Classrooms and course materials will have increased accessibility and distancing and in order to provide for the safety of students and faculty members. If possible, courses will have an online component for students who are unable to be present in the classroom to complete their coursework and certain high-enrollment classes will be offered exclusively online. This includes classes that were conducted online over the summer if they received positive feedback from students and are in demand for the fall semester, as well as 10 additional courses.

Classrooms themselves are intended to be kept at 50% capacity with larger spaces, including outdoor areas, being converted into locations for socially distant learning. Classroom in a box, Hybrid Learning Room, and Remote Lecture and Collaboration Room are three technologies that the university plans to use in order to assist students’ learning in larger classes.

Additionally, any physical computer lab that is not essential to course material will not be open and those that will open in the fall will follow safety guidelines.

The university also plans to stagger class times to allow for longer passing periods between classes in order to dedensify the campus during peak times of activity.

Campus Operations 

The university is continuing to partner with a certified industrial hygiene consultant in order to develop sanitation protocols for all areas on campus. Developments for the fall semester surrounding campus hygiene include remote elevator monitoring systems in downtown elevators, increased deep cleaning schedules of campus locations, hands-free navigation such as automatic door openers, and additional hand sanitizer units in campus buildings.

Recommendations by the Facilities and Campus Operations Committee for dining services include new dining locations in addition to the Commons, using meal pickup lockers on campus, increasing use of food trucks and scheduling student dining times. The committee also details suggestions surrounding campus safety measures and digital business procedures.

Health

All employees are required to wear a face covering while at work and students must wear face coverings in common areas including classrooms.

The university’s goal is to test students as they return to campus and provide access to testing throughout the semester. Tulane Campus Health is also working to develop a community contact tracing program in order to reduce the spread of the illness.

Housing

An infirmary for students who have tested positive for the virus or are awaiting their results will be located in Paterson Residence Hall. This infirmary will be available for students who are living on and off campus for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters. Students who are assigned to Paterson for the upcoming school year will be relocated to other rooms on campus. The residence hall will be reduced to 50+ beds in single rooms.

Triple-bed rooms will also be eliminated for the upcoming school year.

Move-in for the fall and spring semesters will rely on the ship-to-room program, where students will ship their belongings to campus prior to moving into their rooms.

Athletics

A rigorous testing procedure will be put in place for student athletes in addition to medical questionnaires and forehead temperature scans.

Tulane football is scheduled to begin on Sept. 3 and volleyball on Sept. 1, with certain modifications being made if spectators are allowed in attendance.

Workforce Resumption

Faculty will return to work in three phases, but are suggested to continue remote work as much as possible until the beginning of the fall semester. Research labs will be evaluated for return on a case by case basis.

In his May 29 letter, Fitts reminds the Tulane community of the resiliency of our community. “We were established to combat an epidemic – the seasonal bouts of yellow fever that devastated coastal regions like ours,” Fitts said. “We triumphed over that challenge and more than a century and a half later were confronted by Katrina, from which we emerged a stronger, wiser and more resilient community. We draw on this history, experience and knowledge, as well as our collective will, to meet the challenge of COVID-19 today.”

The Tulane community is encouraged to participate in virtual Town Hall meetings hosted by Fitts June 3-9. Meeting registration is available here and is divided based on topics that pertain to faculty, returning undergraduates and parents, incoming first-year undergraduates and parents, staff and graduate students. Suggestions are also welcome via an online portal.