The administration is planning for the Xavier community’s return to campus in the fall, but amid the uncertainty that is the COVID-19 era, flexibility will be key in determining what this will look like.
“Right now, we are full steam ahead for planning to have students return in the fall,” Vice President of Risk Management and chair of the COVID-19 Task Force Jeff Coleman said. “That’s what we’re working towards with all of our… planning. We will have the ability to pivot if we need to, but we hope we won’t.”
The task force first began meeting in late January and has since evolved to fifteen members who meet daily. The task force has been considering five scenarios ranging from a full return with minimal accommodations to a remote fall semester.
“In between, there are other scenarios on the table including dual-modality, where some students are online and some are on campus; an altered calendar for the semester, either starting early or starting late… or a phased return, starting out remote and coming onto campus later,”
“We’ve considered all of the scenarios, now we are looking at the question of ‘What actions can the university take right now that will allow us to
be successful no matter what scenario plays out?’” Coleman said.
Coleman noted that in any scenario the task force is working to ensure the university can seamlessly pivot from on-campus instruction to remote learning.
“What if we are able to come back to campus for the fall semester and suddenly there is a flare up in the late fall?” Coleman asked. “We want to be prepared for any scenario and be able to make a switch more seamlessly.”
To discern properly, the task force formed five committees to inform the university’s decision. The committees include: teaching and learning, student experience, campus operations, human resources and enrollment and pricing.
The student experience committee, led by Associate Provost Dave Johnson and Dean of Students Jean Griffin, will be consulting with student groups, such as the Student Government Association, to discuss life on campus with possible social distancing measures in place and, in particular, how to welcome first year students and their families to campus.
The campus life committee is looking at what measures are necessary to protect at risk student groups. The campus operations committee is discussing how procedures may change, such as whether social distancing
will require Xavier to assign one person per dorm room, or limiting the capacity of the dining hall or classrooms.
Teaching and learning is focusing on what the classroom will be like. Staff and faculty concerns will be fielded and handled by the human resources committee.
Lastly, the enrollment and pricing committee is looking at how the current market and world we live in could affect the university’s enrollment and prices at large.
The task force is currently ensuring safety measures will be in place if students return in the fall, such as having hand sanitizer stations in all
the main areas of campus and having face masks prepared for students, staff and faculty.
“We have TriHealth on board as our partner and they have gone above and beyond throughout this whole thing in helping us make sure we are taking the appropriate safety measures,” Coleman said.
Student opinions on returning to Xavier in the fall vary. Some strongly believe that students should return in the fall in light of the lessening of quarantine restrictions in many states.
“I think it’s perfectly feasible to go back in the fall if everything flattens by then, but at the end of the day it’s all up to the government,” first-year
Jack Dzierzanowski said.
Others aren’t do not see actions of the federal and state governments as a promising indicator.
“Considering the way our country’s government has been handling this crisis, I don’t anticipate a full return to normal by the beginning of next term” first-year Julia Lankisch said.
Some students think the university should not or will not permit students to return in the fall.
“I would love to be back on campus in the fall but I think returning to in-person instruction is risky,” sophomore MaKayla Conners said. “I do believe that despite everyone’s desire to get back on campus and get back to
normal, Xavier will put our health and safety first… I would expect to be doing online classes next fall,” Conners added.
Most opinions, however, lie within the uncertain space between wanting to return to campus while acknowledging the volatility of the pandemic.
“Of course, I think Xavier students should return to campus for in-person instruction in the fall… I want to see my friends, see people’s faces,
have real human interaction and be involved on campus,” sophomore Liam Flannery said. “However, this is a selfish feeling.”
Students were nearly unanimous on one matter: they’d like to be updated with a formal decision by July.
“It’s not fair to students who would be waiting on that decision to make arrangements for alternative living and educational situations to have very little time to figure everything out” Lankisch said.
Coleman expressed that the university is currently waiting for further information and guidance from the governor as well as medical professionals. As such, there is no hard deadline to make a decision about what shape the fall semester will take.
Coleman says he understands the desire of a quick decision, and that the task force is currently working hard to design the most optimal outcome for all.
“The frustrating part of this for everyone involved is that we just can’t control what happens,” Coleman said. “But I want to tell students that
we are on top of this, we are meeting about this every day and there is nothing more important to us than solving this issue.”