After months of uncertainty surrounding the fall semester, University President Claire Sterk and President-elect Greg Fenves announced Thursday that Emory students will report to campus for in-person instruction on Aug. 19. In an altered academic timeline, students will have no holiday breaks and classes will conclude by Thanksgiving, which will be followed by a virtual exam period.
“We know that people will get sick, we can’t bring this number of people together without somebody being sick,” Interim Provost Jan Love told the Wheel. “What we’re trying to do is to prevent outbreaks of COVID.”
Nearly one-third of courses will still be taught remotely — the announcement said it would be “rare” for a student to have a full in-person class schedule. An internal survey revealed that professors teaching these courses are considered “high risk” for COVID-19, and some large classes would not allow for social distancing.
All returning students will be tested for COVID-19 in “pods” across campus. At least 15,000 tests will be administered, Love said, and additional tests will be available to individuals presenting symptoms throughout the semester.
And while instruction will take place in-person, campus life will be fundamentally transformed. With a focus on reducing social interaction, a quality central to the college experience, students will have to grapple with an unrecognizable campus.
The University has yet to determine whether there will be limits on on-campus gatherings or whether common spaces like the Emory Student Center, Woodruff Library or Woodruff Physical Education Center will be open. The future of Emory Athletics is also uncertain, but more details will be released in the coming weeks.
Dining spaces will be spread outside in tents to mitigate large gatherings and promote airflow. A large number of meals will be boxed, Love said.
Despite such sweeping changes to campus life, tuition will be applied uniformly across in-person and online course formats, Sterk and Fenves wrote in their announcement.
Emory College students will re-enroll in courses for the fall semester, with an updated course atlas being made available on July 1, according to an email from the Office for Undergraduate Education. The teaching day will be extended as well, with a majority of courses set to have 75-minute blocks, meeting twice a week. Further instructions about the enrollment process will be communicated to students on June 15.
Students will also sign an agreement to abide by health and safety guidelines and will be provided with a kit containing instructions for self-monitoring, including thermometers. Students, faculty and staff on campus will be required to wear face masks at all times while on campus, including during class.
Love believes that the vast majority of students will return, although those who do not feel comfortable being on campus may complete all classes virtually.
About 4,500 undergraduate students live in campus dorms each year and the University plans to maintain this number with a maximum of two students per room. Love said that if only one student were to occupy each room, many more students would have to acquire off campus housing where the University could not easily contact trace or disinfect living facilities.
Sterk and Fenves also wrote that for students who request single rooms or are immunocompromised, the University will acquire rooms at Emory Conference Center Hotel and other hotel options for Oxford students. The hotels will also be used for infected students to quarantine, Love said.
The University also surveyed all classrooms on campus to determine which ones are suitable for maintaining a 6-foot distance between students. Large lecture classes will either occur in high occupancy facilities that are traditionally not used for teaching, such as the Schwartz Center, or be held online and have small, in-person discussion groups.
A 30-minute window will be created between each class to allow for deep disinfecting and schedules will be altered to reduce the amount of foot traffic in hallways between class meetings. “It is important to note that we expect students will need to adjust their schedules to accommodate changes in course offerings and formats,” Sterk and Fenves wrote.
The University will acquire rooms at the Emory Conference Center Hotel and possibly other nearby hotels for infected students to isolate, where they will be provided daily food and health care. Those who come into contact with infected individuals will also be placed in quarantine.
“We are beefing up our capacity to do contact tracing, so if a faculty member of a student gets sick, we want to, within 24 hours, notify their contacts so they can begin a quarantine or get tested,” Love said.
Professors are currently restructuring their curricula to allow flexibility for students who may decide not to return to campus and to prepare for the possibility of another outbreak in the fall.
“These exercises allow the faculty to develop syllabi for the fall semester that make them easy to pivot into whatever mode of instruction is required,” Love said.
Love said University administrators began focusing on the fall semester after Commencement by creating the Recovery Implementation Team, composed of 40 administrators, which met every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The deans of each academic division unanimously recommended an in-person semester during a “retreat” from May 21 to 22.
The deans’ recommendation was forwarded to the executive vice presidents of the University: Love, Emory Chief Financial Officer Christopher Augustini and Emory Healthcare CEO Jonathan Lewin, and was then sent to Sterk and Fenves.
Fenves and Love will provide further details about planning decisions in a virtual presentation scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight time.
Update (6/11/2020 at 12:20 PM): The article has been updated to include information about course re-enrollment.