UW Oshkosh outlines plan for reopening campus this fall

Joseph Schulz, Managing Editor

UW Oshkosh released the Titans Return for Fall 2020 plan on Thursday, outlining health and safety measures the university will take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when it reopens its three campuses in the fall.

UW Oshkosh Flickr — After sending students home in March and implementing online instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic, the University will welcome students back Sept. 9.

“University learning, living and teaching are not going to look the same as they did in fall 2019,” Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said in a campuswide email unveiling the plan. “That said, we anticipate the steps we are taking now are temporary.”

UWO sent students home in March and switched to online classes due to COVID-19. On Sept. 9, students will be welcomed back for classes and athletics. Residence and dining halls will open as well, with new disinfection and social distancing guidelines.

“We have put together a structure that is focused on the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and rebuilds the on-campus experience,” Leavitt said. “With the unpredictability of COVID-19, our plan has built-in flexibility that allows us to adjust if conditions warrant.”

Under the plan, students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks, spaces will be rearranged to promote social distancing and courses will be offered both in-person and online.

UWO will manage COVID-19 cases as they arise by working with local health departments to conduct contact tracing and provide preventative health screenings for students and employees. Additionally, the university will develop a COVID-19 response team and outline protocols to manage student health.

The Titans Return plan was developed by the university’s Recovery Task Force (RTF), which is led by UWO Police Chief Kurt Liebold and consists of representatives from across campuses including administration, faculty, staff and students.

The RTF developed the plan based on feedback from experts and local health officials, studies focused on higher education and UW System recommendations. The plan is split into sections, outlining preventive measures for general operations, academics and student life.

In terms of general operations, all faculty, staff, students and guests will be required to wear a face covering while inside university buildings, with the exception of residential areas. 

All university personnel are required to participate in COVID-19 safety training and sign the “Titan Pledge.” Liebold described the “Titan Pledge” as an agreement meant to foster community responsibility for following safety measures.

“It comes down to the culture of accountability, and we’ve learned since COVID hit that we can manage it if we do the right things and we’ve set up our university with this structure to be able to do that,” Liebold said. 

UWO also will establish disinfection procedures for all classrooms and common areas, as well as provide basic hygiene kits to all students and employees at the beginning of the semester.

In addition, Leavitt noted the university will work to test anyone with symptoms, and will dedicate an entire residence hall to serve as an isolation area for those who test positive and have mild symptoms.

“We’re going to be able to put them up in a different facility where they can continue their school work,” Leavitt said. 

In terms of course delivery, the university will implement three different methods: HyFlex, Modified Tutorial and online/remote. Large classes will be taught 100% digitally, while small classes will be conducted through either HyFlex or Modified Tutorial delivery.

HyFlex courses are a combination of face-to-face and online learning, in which students can choose to participate in-person or remotely. Instructors will record class lectures and make them available simultaneously or following the in-person class.

For Modified Tutorial delivery courses, students have both online and in-person interaction each week, with some classes being entirely remote and some will be held in smaller groups.

Online/remote classes will be completely online.

Leavitt noted the three-method system will give students the flexibility to learn in a way that makes them feel the most comfortable.

For faculty, he added whether they need to be on campus will be determined by whether or not they can do their job adequately from home.

“It’s going to be somewhat tied to what their responsibilities are,” Leavitt said. “I would imagine in some conditions, if people were unwilling [to be on campus] because they’re not comfortable, then possible reassignments could take place.”

After Thanksgiving break, many classes are expected to move entirely online, with the exception of labs and smaller courses.

“If the conditions are right and we are doing well, we’ll just push right on through,” Leavitt said. “If conditions warrant it, we have the ability ⁠— because of the teaching paradigms we’re using ⁠— to move completely online.”

UWO will continue to evaluate delivery and timing for the spring semester and will ultimately decide based on the current activity of the virus and university operations.

“That’s something that will be informed by how things go in the fall,” Leavitt said. “It’s certainly our intent to be open as much as we can as a campus-based experience.”