Ohio University

President Nellis provides fall semester update for regional campuses

Published: September 8, 2020 Author: Staff reports

The following message was shared with regional students, faculty and staff:

Dear University Community:

It goes without saying that we are living through unpredictable and unprecedented times. The trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, but one constant you can count on is Ohio University’s continued strong focus on the health and safety of all of our students, faculty and staff.

We are already three weeks into our hybrid learning experience on OHIO’s regional campuses this fall. By offering a mix of face-to-face instruction for clinical, practica, or lab-based classes and remote instruction for all other courses, we have successfully reduced density on our regional campuses. This approach will continue as planned throughout the fall.  

While many of you at our regional campuses will continue as planned with the hybrid approach, I am writing in recognition that some regional students have dual-enrollment status and may be anticipating notification about plans for Phase 2 on the Athens campus, which will begin Monday, Sept. 28.

Although I know some of you may have been hopeful of a complete re-opening of our campus, we have determined that with Phase 2, while increasing the number of students we are bringing back to our residence halls and University community, we must still continue to proceed with a more careful approach for the remainder of fall semester to protect our campus community and the City of Athens during these uncertain times.

Phase 2 Approach in Athens

Over the past several weeks, teams including students, faculty, staff and our public health partners in Athens have analyzed data from testing, tracing and trends to determine the number of students that we can safely bring back to the Athens campus in the coming weeks.

In consultation with our Chief Medical Officer and Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations as well as Athens County Health and Medical Directors, while leveraging available public health data, we have determined that we can best manage risk to our Athens campus community by continuing a reduced density model while also carefully increasing access to campus. We will bring approximately 30 percent of undergraduate students and 100 percent of all graduate students back to Athens for Phase 2.

No matter the campus, these past few weeks of fall semester have served as a test of OHIO's procedures and protocols that were established with public health experts over the summer months. However, in Athens, while our reduced campus density during Phase 1 and the safety protocols that we have implemented have helped to minimize risk, available public health data does not support a resumption of full operations this fall.

As we’ve worked to plan this next phase as safely as possible, the Ohio University Fall Curriculum Scenario Group, as well as deans, department chairs and directors, and faculty members have prioritized eligibility for students engaged in academic experiences that require access to in-person instruction, specialized equipment or specific facilities to ensure academic progress toward degree requirements.

Later today, undergraduate and graduate students with Athens campus enrollment will receive an official email notification regarding the status of their eligibility to return to the Athens campus in Phase 2. Housing and Residence Life will communicate directly with eligible Phase 2 students regarding housing assignments, dining plans and move-in details.

Over the coming weeks, dedicated faculty will continue to adapt courses as necessary to optimize dynamic remote learning opportunities during Phase 2. Students should check Blackboard and their Ohio University email account regularly for latest updates, including messages from instructors about how Phase 2 will be implemented in each class.

The need to continue reduced density on the Athens campus is driven by the number of quarantine and isolation rooms we can achieve on campus and the capacity for testing available, layered with models for the spread of disease and demand for quarantine and isolation over time.

Students not included in Phase 2 in Athens will continue their courses remotely through the fall semester. In every modality and location, OHIO students have opportunities for meaningful engagement with their peers, faculty, staff and communities. For first-year students, for example, your virtual learning community will continue to focus on academic success and helping you develop Bobcat connections. For first-year students not currently enrolled in a learning community, the Office of First Year and Student Transitions (FYrST) will offer an additional student transition seminar for students who feel they may need additional support to prepare for success. Interested students should contact the FYrST office by Sept. 13 to become enrolled. Resident Advisors will also continue to engage virtually with students throughout the fall semester, and students can participate in our 600+ student organizations by setting up a profile in Bobcat Connect.

Testing and Safety Requirements

Throughout the fall semester, it remains imperative that students, faculty and staff continue to follow all guidance for wearing facial coverings, maintaining physical distance, limiting the size of any gatherings, conducting their daily self-assessment and reporting all cases of COVID-19 through our COVID-19 Incident Report.

We ask all students, faculty and staff to familiarize themselves with the requirements outlined in our Presidential Health Directives, which enable the University to take appropriate action to address infectious disease, epidemics, pandemics and other threats to the health and safety of persons associated with Ohio University.

If returning to on-campus learning, we require students to complete an online learning module that serves as an overview of COVID-19: what it is, its symptoms and best practices for staying safe. We also ask every member of the University community to sign-off on the OHIO Pledge, indicating that they will do their part to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The pledge asks all Bobcats to commit to observe heightened health and safety precautions in the coming academic year.

Any students, faculty or staff reporting to an on-campus learning environment are required to complete a daily COVID-19 symptom assessment and follow all appropriate health and safety protocols to help stop the spread of disease.

Support Services for Regional Campus Students

Regional campuses will continue offering students both in-person and remote/virtual support services. Student Services staff at each campus continue to provide advising, registration and financial aid support.

Regional campus libraries will maintain limited in-person hours to support student needs. Tutoring services and support will be available remotely through a partnership with the Academic Achievement Center. 

Each regional campus offers limited spaces where students can study and access University WiFi. These spaces will maintain minimum physical distancing requirements. As a reminder, students must follow the University face coverings policy

Looking Ahead

Over the next several weeks, Ohio University will continue work to implement a new testing strategy to screen students who are not exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms. Students will be expected to participate in asymptomatic testing when invited to take part in surveillance or exposure-based testing.

We will also launch a new dashboard in the coming days to help us understand trends and respond to changing conditions across our University community.

Pandemic and public health conditions, along with our collective success for the rest of fall semester, will inform decisions about spring. While we hope that conditions will permit a robust in-person experience at every location, we must continue to monitor health risks to our campuses and communities in the coming months. We'll work to effectively mitigate those risks wherever possible, and we will keep students and families informed of our spring plans as they develop. 

Please continue to stay safe and show your care and support for one another by doing your part to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

Kind regards,            
M. Duane Nellis