U proposes online start, delayed campus return

"Administrators put the burden of success on students with a fall plan that relies more on adherence to social distancing and less on thorough testing and monitoring."

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel from the University of Minnesota's president's office.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents will hold a special meeting Monday to consider President Joan Gabel’s proposal for students to move into campus housing two weeks later than planned and undergraduate classes to be taught online for at least the first fortnight of the fall semester. 

Gabel, who assumed her leadership role this year, made the announcement Friday in a letter to students, faculty and staff, noting “the rapid spread of COVID-19 has forced changes to campus plans at many higher education institutions that start classes earlier than we do.”

The flagship campus had planned to bring students back with a mix of online and in-person instruction, with over 70 percent of nearly 9,000 classes slated to be fully online; fall sports have already been postponed. 

Twin Cities and Rochester students are scheduled to start moving in Sept. 2, with classes beginning after Labor Day. First-year and transfer students at Duluth were set to move in next week, with classes commencing Aug. 31. 

Though conducted remotely, classes for roughly 38,000 undergraduates at the three campuses would still start on time under Gabel’s proposal. Graduate and professional students will continue with their planned schedules. Semester plans at the Crookston and Morris campuses remain unchanged because the likelihood of widespread COVID-19 transmission is significantly lower in Polk and Stevens Counties.

“Administrators put the burden of success on students with a fall plan that relies more on adherence to social distancing and less on thorough testing and monitoring,” Student Body President Amy Ma said. 

But Center for Infectious Disease Director Michael Osterholm, who’s been on national media almost weekly during the pandemic, disputes those comments. He believes the testing plan is informed by quality public health guidance. 

“The university has had some of the best public health science on this topic of anywhere in the country,” he said

All these proposals come on the heels of media publicizing outbreaks at the University of North Carolina, Syracuse University and the University of Notre Dame. It also follows guidance from White House Coronavirus Task Force leader Deborah Birx. 

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities begin classes Monday and most campuses around America are open. Private schools in Minnesota are opening, but significantly lacking resources like nurses and bus drivers, due to public school closures.

If regents approve the delay, Gabel said the U will monitor changing guidelines, the availability of rapid testing capacity and the amount of new cases in college-aged adults to determine next steps. The president advised that actions in the coming weeks “will significantly impact our ability to move forward.”

Gabel also recently wrote in a separate public message that coronavirus will continue to spread until there’s a vaccine, regardless of safety measures any  university takes.

You can read her entire statement here.