Southern Universities Plan to Reopen Campuses in the Fall

May 1, 2020 Updated: May 1, 2020

Higher education institutes across the nation have begun outlining possible roadmaps under which they would reopen campuses for the upcoming fall semester, including three major public university systems in the South: the Universities of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina.

The University of Alabama (UA) system is planning to welcome its 38,000 students back in the fall, likely with social gathering restrictions, said chancellor Finis E. St. John IV said in an interview with The Birmingham News.

“We are expecting to have a fall semester at all of our universities,” St. John told the local news outlet. “We are expecting it to be on the regular schedule. We understand that things could happen that make it impossible, but that’s what we are planning for at this time.”

The UA has formed a system-wide task force to consider possible adjustments to testing measures, cleaning, classroom procedures, housing policies, security, and many others. St. John said there might be smaller classes where students could alternate between in-person and online instructions.

University of Georgia (UGA) President Jere Morehead said in a campus-wide letter that the school is “anticipating a resumption of in-person instruction” for the fall semester. This situation “remains a fluid one,” he said, as the University System of Georgia is still monitoring developments related to CCP virus pandemic and receiving guidance from state health officials.

“All of us want to get back to an open and vibrant campus and resume normal operations, but that path will not be easy. There are many questions to be answered,” said Morehead. UGA resumed online instruction on March 30 and rescheduled the graduation ceremony for Class 2020 to October. There are 30 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the 37,000-person UGA community by the end of April.

Bill Roper, interim president of the University of North Carolina (UNC) system, said school administrators are “optimistically seeing indications of improvement” and looking forward to welcoming about 239,000 students back to their classrooms this fall. However, there remain “underlying health concerns.”

“Each and every step the UNC System takes will continue to prioritize health and safety,” Roper said in a statement. “Until a vaccine is developed, many members of our community may not be able to risk teaching or attending in-person classes.”

He said school administrators are considering strategies including staggered or shortened academic calendars, while other schools might cut down student headcounts in classrooms and campus housing. The UNC might also utilize improved technology to track student exposure to the virus.

“I anticipate that operations at each institution will not be the ‘normal’ we were all used to prior to COVID-19. But, working together, we will all eventually see our 17 campuses once again operating at full capacity,” he said.