Though confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Oregon continue to rise, Pacific University is still full speed ahead on their adapted plan for fall term, with changes to classroom sizes, social distancing across campus, and the option for students to attend classes remotely. Students have until July 1st to decide whether they wish to return to campus or complete their fall semester online.
“The vast majority of our students want to come to campus,” said Sarah Phillips, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We have not had a whole lot of students choosing the remote [option]. Students choosing remote have typically been students who have a health issue or live with a family member with a serious health issue.”
According to Phillips, as of June 22, only around 30 students had requested remote learning for the fall. Those students who choose remote learning will see a setup much like that in the spring, attending classes via Zoom. According to Director of Core Curriculum Mike Geraci, UIS is outfitting all classrooms with web cameras and microphones so students can attend classes virtually. Courses will also be recorded. In addition, remote students will be assigned an academic coach who will check in regularly on their progress in classes and address any challenges they may be facing.
Students who choose remote learning for the fall who have previously signed up for on-campus housing have until July 1st to receive a full refund with no cancellation fee. Cancelling housing after July 1st will result in a $200 fee. If students who cancel housing for the fall wish to return to campus for spring semester, they will have to reapply for housing and will be assigned a room based on vacancy.
“I don’t know what housing will be available then,” said Phillips. “We’ve had quite a few returning students want to live on campus next year, so it will just matter if there’s a room or not. There’s nothing that prevents them [from returning to campus]. It’s just if we have enough space.”
Students who are returning to campus will see many differences from a normal fall semester. To start, all students returning to class will be required to take a short online course that will cover changes to the campus designed to keep all students, staff, and faculty safe. Among these precautions will be a requirement of face coverings and enforced social distancing in classrooms and other public spaces on campus, grab and go food at the UC, and an inability to visit residence halls other than your own. The university is also pursuing rental agreements with larger spaces off campus such as the UCC church and the Theater in the Grove so that larger classes will be able to meet in person.
Despite many restrictions in place, the University is doing its best to adapt and create spaces where students can socialize in a safe manner, including buying outdoor games and figuring out the logistics of holding some classes outdoors.
In addition to changes to campus life itself, the University has also made changes to the academic calendar to limit travel on and off campus. These changes include the elimination of three day weekends, such as Labor Day and Fall Break, as well classes being held on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Following Thanksgiving Break, all classes will be held online, including Reading Day and final exams.
Though the calendar aims at limiting off-campus travel, it is mainly meant to discourage travel that is “getting on a plane with a hundred other people for a number of hours,” said Phillips. Students, staff, and faculty who live or work off-campus needn’t worry.
“We’re not trying to halt any of that,” said Phillips. “What we’re going to try to do is be very careful about education, make sure everybody knows the things they need to do in order to keep themselves and everybody in our community on campus healthy. We’re gonna do the best we can to make sure everybody is taking the precautions that they need to take.”
Among these precautions is asking students, staff, and faculty to check in with themselves every morning and run through a list of symptoms. Anyone who is sick, whether from COVID-19 or simply a cold, will be asked to stay home and take their courses remotely until they’re healthy. For those in the residence halls, students who are symptomatic from COVID-19 will be either moved home or into special quarantine rooms for 14 days. Their roommates will also be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Though the University continues to move ahead with these precautions, as Sarah Phillips says, there are no absolutes, and if the situation once again worsens, there is a chance that classes may be moved fully online.
“There are over 100 people working all summer long to make sure that we have the best and safest campus environment for our entire community,” said Geraci. “It’s not going to be normal, but we are going to do everything we can to keep everyone safe while keeping students on track to complete their degrees.”
“We will follow what the public health authorities tell us we need to do,” Phillips said. “Our job is to take care of our students, faculty, and staff who are on campus. So we’ll do what we’re supposed to do. And if what we’re supposed to do is move courses online, that’s what we’ll do.”
“My hope is that we don’t get to that sort of a point again,” Philips continued. “My hope is that we are able to manage exposure on campus in such a way that even if there’s a group of students that have been exposed, it’s not an all or nothing decision.”
At the moment, there are no plans for anything but normal for spring semester.
Bren Swogger is a journalism major at Pacific University Class of 2021. They currently live in Oregon City, OR. They are the creator of Indie/Alt Magazine, and also write for Vortex Music Magazine in Portland.
Ella Cutter is a senior staff writer for the Index. She is currently pursuing degrees in journalism and editing and publishing, and also works for the downtown Portland indie press zines + things.