The fall semester is up in the air amidst COVID-19 pandemic


Curtis Lin

Students out and about on the University of Utah campus | Daily Utah Chronicle

By Natalie Colby, Editor-in-Chief


Fall semester registration opened on April 13, and with the summer semester fully online and changes being constantly made to the University of Utah, a level of uncertainty remains for students if they will be able to return to campus. 

Since the summer semester has been moved online, all students, regardless of residency, will be able to take classes for the cost of in-state tuition.

Senior vice president of academic affairs Dan Reed said no final decision has been made about the fall semester. However, it is a conversation they are actively having in both university leadership and among their Pac-12 peers. 

“The models for the spread of the pandemic are still evolving,” Reed said in a phone interview. “All of the models, or at least all of the ones I’ve seen, suggest there will still be an incidence of attraction well into the fall.”

Reed emphasized this doesn’t mean there will be no fall semester — simply, the university has to be thoughtful and keep everyone’s safety as the first priority. He said the fall semester might look different for each individual student and will definitely not be exactly like Fall 2019. 

“So the situation is evolving and uncertain. I’m certainly hopeful that we will have in-person classes in the fall. Exactly what that might be, exactly what safety precautions we might have to put in place, are not yet known,” Reed said.

Each fall brings thousands of new U students moving into on-campus housing. “Housing and Residential Education is working closely with university administration,” said Lexis Maschoff, the assistant director for communications and assessment of HRE.

Additionally, Maschoff stated HRE is discussing how they can support students transitioning back to campus post-COVID-19. This includes encouraging students to bring cleaning supplies to campus, processes to disinfect areas and change traditionally large events, which may need to be altered to support any physical distancing needs. 

“HRE will continue to assess any alterations needed based on guidance from the university administration and local health agencies. We strive to provide transparency in updates as we have them and would continue to update fall residents and student staff as needed,” Maschoff said in a phone interview.

As for now, HRE are still accepting reservations for fall housing. 

Reed said he regularly speaks to the deans of respective colleges on campus and is constantly asking what lessons can be learned from this experience, such as how to collaborate electronically and improving online instruction. He said they are even creating an award to recognize innovation in online teaching.

His advice to students as the year progresses is to be flexible and prepared for however the fall semester turns out. He said the mid-semester transition was unexpected, but for the summer semester, professors and students will be more prepared, and if the fall also winds up online, the U will be prepared. 

Before COVID-19, the U had already planned on hiring a dean of online and continuing education. The dean will start working on May 15.

Reed said safety is paramount in this decision and they are currently continuing to watch the data to see if classes can be on-campus in the fall and exactly how they would go about it. 

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