Still faced with the threat of the coronavirus, some Maryland universities are sticking with their decision to have a mix of in-person learning and online classes this fall. But now they are setting up additional mandatory guidelines.
All students must wear face masks on campuses in all of the University System of Maryland’s 12 institutions, Vice Chancellor Joann Boughman said in a virtual Board of Regents special meeting on Wednesday. There will be consequences for students who do not comply, although she did not specify what those repercussions would look like.
Classrooms and furniture in common areas will be rearranged so that social distancing is possible. Regular cleaning will take place between meetings and classes and appropriate staff members will receive personal protective equipment, Boughman said.
There will also be required daily symptom monitoring for all students, staff and faculty, Boughman said. A student who has symptoms will be contacted and sent for testing either to his or her own health care provider or to the student health service. If positive, students living in residential buildings will be sent to specific facilities that all campuses have reserved for quarantine, while students who do not live on campus would be required to isolate in their “local residence,” Boughman said.
Campus density will also be greatly reduced, with one student per room. However, a group of students will have to share bathrooms. Freshmen, upperclassmen with advanced classes that require face to face instruction, students who cannot commute from off-campus housing and international students will get priority to live on campus, Boughman said.
Some students can also take “ready to adopt courses” from University of Maryland Global Campus, a fully virtual university that may already have online options for some courses that students from other campuses normally take in-person, Boughman said.
One of the biggest issues that colleges everywhere are facing is how exactly they can afford all the additional costs that come with extra cleaning supplies and tuition losses caused by the pandemic.
“Opting for a hybrid model is by no stretch an easy out. It does not save us money, it does not save us time, it does not save us planning,” Chancellor Jay Perman said. “It is hard work.”
Earlier this month, the state Board of Public Works approved $131.5 million in budget cuts to higher education. USM is currently facing $117.3 million in cuts that may lead to employee furloughs.
This reduction is considered to be a base cut, which means that it is intended to permanently reduce the level of funding for years to come, as opposed to a one-year cut that would be restored later, Vice Chancellor Ellen Herbst said.
“This cut is something we could be living with for several years, and depending on the economy, we can see additional cuts,” Herbst said. Each institution in the University System of Maryland is updating its financial projections and taking these massive state cuts into account while preparing for a return on campus.
There are many students who need the campus environment as much as they need the courses — namely low income and first generation students, Perman said.
However, if the spread of coronavirus spikes up, all campuses will immediately pivot to remote learning. All hybrid courses will be “online ready” so that in the case of another public health emergency, the transition will be smoother than last spring, Perman said.
“We have no incentive to salvage an in-person semester if science tells us we shouldn’t,” he said.