Planning for Fall Classes

April 24, 2020

I have been so incredibly proud at how our UNL community of students, faculty and staff have led through the change of this tumultuous semester. In January, none of us could have imagined that this would transpire. Yet we were able to transition quickly into an online learning environment and largely emptying our campus of our people. We have accomplished this feat more smoothly and efficiently than many other universities in the country. That is due to each and every one of you – thank you!

Earlier today, President Carter announced that the University of Nebraska system will have plans in place to be open for in-person learning in the fall. I want to reiterate that – UNL will be open in the fall for in-person instruction.

Does that mean everything will be the same as what we once considered “normal?” No. Throughout this year, and perhaps for some time after that, we will be operating within the important need for public safety brought about by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

In keeping with our land-grant heritage and our recognition that every person, every interaction matters, we will be guided by our commitment to both our campus community and the larger communities of which we are a part. As an R1 research university, we will be guided by well-informed science – it will be scientific discoveries and technological innovations that will help us create an environment that provides for both in-person instruction and public safety. We believe that by fall individuals will have greater data on their personal exposure, and there will be the ability to equip our community with the tools needed to provide personal protection.

Will every class be taught in-person or every person be required to physically attend a course in order to participate? No. Classes will be structured and taught in a manner that can be done safely. Where in-person teaching can be done safely, that will be done. Other courses may become a blend of remote and in-person learning. The traditional settings for classes may shift as we take the need for social distancing into account.

We also may need to adjust our curricula. Some students, such as our international students, may not be able to arrive on campus at the beginning of the semester. We want to ensure they are still able to engage with us in the fall and continue their academic progress. This may necessitate looking at how to structure courses so they can still begin and join in person as they are able. This is also an opportunity to elevate our efforts to help our graduating seniors find ways to continue their academic journey to a graduate degree.

And as we take these steps, we will continue to do so from a standpoint of safety. Without an effective vaccine, there will still be those in our community who are vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. Some instructors may not be able to physically teach in a classroom of students, even with distancing and personal protection. Some students may not be able to risk attending classes in person. As we make our plans for fall, we will take these considerations into account to help ensure the success and safety of everyone in our community.

As you know, we have continued to keep our residential halls open for those students who needed to remain on campus this spring. This has provided invaluable experience on how to create the necessary distancing and safely serve the needs of those in our residential community. Our residence halls will be open in the fall, and we look forward to welcoming our students.

This spring, the changes brought by COVID-19 came rapidly. Re-opening our physical campus for the fall semester will be much more layered, more nuanced and more complex.

The good news is we have three months to tap the intellectual capacity and ingenuity of our campus. We have already seen so much innovation as members of our community have adapted to new realities. We want to continue to capture that for our future.

I have asked our campus COVID-19 Task Force to reorient itself with a “Forward to Fall” mission; planning for a successful fall semester and looking creatively at how to meet our education, research and engagement missions.

We are committed to success, and there will be much more to come as specific details are determined. We also know that COVID-19 can be unpredictable, and we will need to be nimble and incorporate flexibility to our plans to return to in-person education.

Again, thank you. I know this pandemic has brought personal change for each of us and forced so many to juggle many competing priorities simultaneously. I appreciate the incredible work you have done, the commitment you have shown and the collective success we have achieved.

We are Nebraska. We find ways to figure it out and get it done. And I believe we will continue to find ways to thrive in times of challenge.

Ronnie D. Green, Ph.D.