The University currently plans to begin fall semester classes on time and in-person, University President Jim Ryan and his executive leadership team announced in a community-wide email Thursday. In-person instruction for undergraduate courses is expected to start Aug. 25, as previously planned, and will end by Thanksgiving break to minimize travel back and forth from Charlottesville. A final decision on the operating status of the upcoming academic year will be announced mid-June.
The University is still determining how many in-person classes it can host and the number of students who can safely live in on-Grounds housing. Administrators have also not yet decided whether exams will take place in-person before Thanksgiving break or remotely after.
However, Ryan, along with Executive Vice Presidents Liz Magill, K. Craig Kent and J.J. Davis, said that no matter the scenario, larger classes — as well as those taught by faculty who have health concerns — will remain online all semester.
Most students will have the option to take classes remotely, if they choose to remain home instead of returning to Grounds. Students may also choose to defer their admission or take a gap-year, which have always been options for incoming or current students. The University is looking into expanding options for January-term courses, so students can take lighter course loads in the fall.
The announcement acknowledged that the University community’s return to Grounds addresses not only “obvious financial risks,” but also the additional educational and health risks associated with remaining online.
“This fall will not be a normal fall, even with some students back on Grounds and some classes being held in person,” the executive leadership team wrote in their email. “There inevitably will be greater risk in having students return, and we will be placing a good deal of trust in our students to look out for the safety and well-being not just of each other but of our faculty, staff, and community members.”
In efforts to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in the University community, the University is developing protocols for testing, tracing and isolating those who test positive for COVID-19. Personal protective equipment will be provided to the University community, but it is unclear what — other than masks — this will entail. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam mandated via executive order that, starting May 29, people must wear masks in all indoor public spaces.
The University’s announcement made it clear that the current plans for the semester are simply “planning assumptions” made in a “fairly rapidly evolving situation.” The executive leadership team acknowledged that no plan will be “universally popular” and that there are obvious risks associated with bringing students back to Grounds, but the University believes it should do its best to be open for students.
“One of U.Va.’s greatest strengths is our world-class residential learning experience — something that, as all of you know by now, cannot be fully replicated online,” the executive leadership team wrote. “We also appreciate that learning remotely is much harder for some students than others, given different living arrangements, family circumstances and family obligations. There is also no end in reasonable sight for this virus, which makes it even more imperative that we do our best to adapt.”
To craft the final framework for fall 2020, the University will consider feedback from the community, which has been gathered through surveys sent to the undergraduate, graduate and faculty populations as well as through a faculty town hall held Wednesday. The University also plans to conduct staff town halls, polls and surveys.