NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Over the last few weeks, many of Tennessee’s largest colleges and universities have announced they intend to return students to on-campus learning for the fall 2020 semester.
With several months left until August, there are still many unknowns, so the plans are a work in progress and will be updated over the coming weeks.
Here are the plans released as of May 15 for some of the state’s higher education institutions.
University of Tennessee
As the pandemic began and universities worked quickly to control the spread of the virus on their campuses, the state’s largest academic institution announced the transition of in-person classes to an all online platform on March 11.
Nearly two months later, on May 6, the University of Tennessee announced its plan to welcome students back to campus for the fall semester.
“We want to make sure we give our students the best educational experience we can possibly provide in the safest environment,” UT President Randy Boyd told News 2.
Boyd said UT created a system-wide task force in April to advise on policies and procedures, while each UT System campus also developed a local task force to specify the needs of its specific campus.
“We are looking at social distancing, reducing class sizes, maybe some hybrid classes where not all students show up at every class everyday,” Boyd explained.
As for students who are not yet comfortable returning to campus, Boyd said there will be options to continue online learning.
Updates to the University of Tennessee’s plan will be posted on the university’s coronavirus page.
Middle Tennessee State University
Following a move to remote learning in mid-March, Middle Tennessee State University elected to continue online classes through the summer, while cancelling most on-campus events and activities, including Spring Commencement.
After speaking with students and their parents, MTSU President Sidney McPhee said most were in favor of returning to campus for the fall.
“A majority of parents and students preferred, if possible, to have classes in person, on-campus,” McPhee explained.
He added, “we are preparing for a new normal, depending on what the current condition, or what the condition in August or September will be.”
McPhee said the actions will ultimately be guided by the advice and recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health officials.
As the plan is fleshed out, McPhee announced he will not seek tuition or fee increases for the 2020-2021 academic year, when the institution’s budget goes to its Board of Trustees for consideration in June.
For additional information, visit MTSU’s coronavirus updates page.
While in-person classes remain suspended for the summer sessions, Vanderbilt University announced in early May a multi-phase plan for a gradual return to campus.
Phase 1 of the “Return to Campus plan” begins May 18, allowing dean-authorized graduate and professional student field-based training/learning (as informed by on-campus research activities ramping up and/or clinic/occupational site consent).
Vanderbilt has said the goal for the fall semester is to restart on-campus, in-person teaching “as soon as possible based on public health status and safety protocols.”
The plan states “a definitive decision cannot be made nearly three months before the beginning of the current fall calendars, because of the ever-changing COVID-19 situation,” but indicates the university should be ready for on-campus instruction and/or enhanced virtual/alternative instruction platforms in Phase 3.
Although Vanderbilt has made plans to offer in-person instruction, the university will also plan for all courses to be delivered by virtual/alternative platforms.
One of the first colleges in Tennessee to announce the intent to return to in-person learning in the fall, Lipscomb University has set a goal for students to come back to campus in August with some modifications.
“It’ll be a little bit more creative. We won’t have some of the same special events and we won’t have some of the same large gatherings,” Lipscomb President Randy Lowry explained.
He added, “if for some reason, the virus comes back in July, it probably will be modified and we’re already preparing some other dates to open as well.”
The other dates, Lowry said include a return after Labor Day and even possibly in October.
“We want to bring them back together and there will be some restrictions but but everything we see suggests this is at least a logical thing we’re looking at,” Lowry said.
Additional information will be posted on Lipscomb University’s coronavirus page.
Austin Peay State University
Smaller, in-person classes are a likely scenario at Austin Peay State University when on-campus learning resumes for the fall semester, according to the school’s leadership.
APSU President Alisa White announced May 4 that a decision to return to campus was made after collecting information and recommendations from health officials and campus community members who are working on plans to facilitate social distancing and heightened cleaning and sanitation protocols.
“Our COVID-19 Task Force and the Strategic Planning Integration Task Force will continue to develop recommendations to carry us through this and similar scenarios for up to two years,”White said in a statement.
She further explained, “we soon will announce updates regarding specific issues the task forces and other subgroups are studying, such as on-campus housing and in-classroom social distancing. Whatever decisions we make, the focus always will be on the safety of our students, faculty and staff, and our commitment to academic quality.”
White said the university recently purchased and received more than 6,000 face masks. The school has also developed its own hand sanitizer, in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry, to have available in the fall.
General updates on the APSU coronavirus response can be found on the school’s COVID-19 information page.
Tennessee State University
Like most higher education institutions across the country, Tennessee State University students completed the semester online, as the majority of the university’s employees continued to work remotely.
In an email dated May 15, TSU announced it intended to return students to campus for the fall semester with “additional safety protocols to protect the public health and safety of its students and employees.”
In addition to a Pandemic Task Force that meets every day to address COVID-19 related issues, TSU President Glenda Glover appointed a Fall Course Delivery Task Force to help develop the best strategy for classes.
“We are evaluating and developing operational safety measures, best practices, and academic related logistical options to prepare for the return of students in the fall with the focus on the health and safety of the campus community,” President Glover said in a statement to News 2.
She explained, “these measures will include the ongoing cleaning of campus facilities, the use of larger classrooms and hybrid in-person and online course presentations and the implementation of appropriate social distancing standards.”
While the plan is to open for the fall, Glover said that will change if the threat of the virus resurfaces.
Updates are being provided on TSU’s coronavirus information page.
Trevecca Nazarene University
Students at Trevecca Nazarene University will return to campus in August, University President Dr. Dan Boone announced May 1 in a letter to the Trevecca community.
“In-person classes and on-campus activities and operations will resume in the Fall 2020 semester,” Boone explained.
He said, “unless the Centers for Disease Control or state and local public health officials advise or recommend otherwise in the coming months, we intend to welcome all our incoming and returning students to campus in August.“Boone added that Fall 2020 “will probably look a little different from the previous falls when we’ve welcomed incoming freshmen, transfers, graduate students, faculty and staff back to the Hill.”
More details on the plan are expected at a later date.
In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff on May 12, Dr. Robert Fisher, the president of Belmont University announced the school’s intention to open for in-person learning and on-campus loving on Aug. 19.
“For us to be successful in our return to campus we will have to do some things very differently to minimize the risk to ourselves and each other,” Fisher’s e-mail said.
He explained, “our leadership has sought the consultation of top medical officials from some of the world’s leading health care companies and research hospitals. We have been agonizingly thoughtful about what it will take for us to return to on-campus living and learning.”
Fisher added, “if at any point conditions change dramatically for the worse, we will not hesitate to change our course.” Belmont expects to share additional details regarding the plans for fall semester in the coming weeks.
Belmont University has created a coronavirus information page to provide updates on the school’s reopening.
In mid-May, Fisk University announced the formation of a COVID-19 Task Force to prepare for issues related to the pandemic.
As of May 14, Fisk had not announced whether students would return to on-campus learning in the fall.
Check with the Fisk University coronavirus information page for updates.
“Offering the traditional college experience” is the goal for Tennessee Tech, as the university plans for students to return to campus in the fall, according to the university’s president.
Tech’s President Phil Oldham said the university has the most classes under 20 students of any public university in the state, so faculty and academic leaders are discussing how class size and classroom adaptations will be key to getting back to face-to-face instruction.
“As a university built on practicality and problem solving, we are exploring ways we can safety bring students back to campus and still give them a complete college experience, even if it looks somewhat different than before the pandemic,” Oldham said in a statement to News 2.
He added that Tennessee Tech will bring back employees in phases over the summer. A more specific plan will be announced in mid-May.
Updates are being provided on Tennessee Tech’s coronavirus information page.
News 2 digs deeper into how schools are planning to move forward safely. See how other districts around Middle Tennessee are handling everything from classroom concerns to the future of sports in our special series. Click here to see more.
Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
COVID-19 in Tennessee
(This reflects what the TDH is reporting each day at 2 p.m. CST for every county other than Davidson. Information for Davidson comes from the Metro Public Health Department.)