Although the number of active COVID-19 cases in the territory continues to grow, the University of the Virgin Islands announced Tuesday it will reopen for the fall semester.
At a virtual town hall meeting held on June 30, UVI President David Hall informed students and employees of the university’s intentions to gradually resume some level of in-person instruction beginning in the fall.
The UVI COVID-19 Taskforce is a team of 27 individuals who have been meeting across both campuses to discuss the university’s next steps. Hall reviewed a 14-page plan, approved by the UVI board of trustees, that sets the guidelines and procedures to take place.
“If we are going to create a path forward, we need principles that are guiding us,” Hall said. “The first principle we are keeping in the forefront of all our actions and decisions is to ensure the health and safety of our students and our employees. Secondly, we will continue to base our decisions on the guidance provided by the V.I. Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.”
“These principles are the bedrock for what we are trying to do to lower the risk to everyone while returning to our campuses and fulfilling our mission as a university,” Hall continued.
UVI has decided to reopen in phases. The first phase, to begin in the fall, will come with restrictions, but come spring more relaxed guidelines will be put into place.
In August, students, employees and the public are to wear their face coverings when entering and exiting classrooms, while on campus, in all common areas and offices. The university will offer reusable face masks and the sale of masks at a reasonable rate. UVI acknowledges that there might be cases in which the wearing of masks may hinder students’ health, and special accommodations will be made.
Other steps to ensure the safety of students and employees will include an increase in cleaning and disinfecting, and enforcement of the social distancing guidelines set by the Virgin Islands Department of Health and CDC. To adhere to the guidelines, UVI’s classroom capacity will reduce from 840 to 269 seats at the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix, and from 911 to 276 seats on the St. Thomas campus.
The university will be using different methods to deliver information to students. “We know that communication is critical. One of the comments that came in is that they wanted us to utilize more digital,” said Hall. The university will be exploring a combination of in-person, remote, videoconference and flipped instruction – where some students will be in class while others will be virtual, and then flip.
Faculty are encouraged to increase the use of Blackboard online instruction to enhance communication and engagement with students. Examinations and assignments should be submitted via Blackboard and returned via Blackboard. Faculty and students are also encouraged to use the chat room.
“Housing capacity will also drop because of the goal of complying with the CDC guidelines,” Hall said. The move-in processes will be staggered to minimize large groups waiting to check-in, and the same process will occur during check-out at the end of the semester. Social distancing protocols will be followed during the move-in and move-out processes.
No visitors are to be allowed during the fall semester. The dining facilities will use only disposable utensils. Take-out and dine-in will be available, but the dining-in option will mirror social distancing and sanitizing processes used by restaurants.
Hall emphasized that guidelines are subject to change and are a “board-approved policy and therefore needs to be enforced.”
At the virtual town hall, the floor was opened for questions to be posted. One attendee asked, “Will tuition be reduced for courses and credits that are exclusively offered online?” UVI responded, “There is no expectation that tuition will be reduced for courses.”
Hall also touched on some “serious” financial challenges ahead and announced the cancellation of all business travel for the fall. “Because of COVID–19, the territory’s financial picture is not getting any better,” he said, and UVI has also felt the effects. He said UVI is pursuing federal support, but with no guarantees. According to Hall, a financial plan as to how the university will move forward is on the way, and discussions about the 2021 budget will begin in October.