The University of Alaska is taking a number of preventive measures amid COVID-19 concerns, including moving students out of residence halls, extending spring break, moving classes to distance delivery and canceling large events.
UA President Jim Johnsen advocated for the approach, emphasizing prevention over reaction in a Thursday press conference.
Effective Monday, the university is extending spring break an additional week to give faculty time to prepare and make the transition from face-to-face classes to alternative delivery methods for most courses beginning March 23, according to Johnsen.
“As I indicated earlier, the chancellors may make exceptions if they can ensure social distance for certain courses that really require that face to face: certain lab courses, certain clinical experiences for nursing students, for example,” Johnsen said, “and there are other hands on type courses across the system, but again, personal safety measures are paramount whenever these few exceptions will be made.”
At UAF specific classes, wherein students have to work hands on with machinery or in labs, will be asked to develop plans so that social distancing can be accomplished, according to Chancellor Dan White, who added that the same goes for research, including the care of animals the university cares for.
“So we will continue to do that, but for those things that require that hands on activity, we’ll have special social distancing requirements in plans developed by instructors to ensure safety,” White said.
All gatherings or events of more than 25 people are now canceled through March 31.
Whether or not commencement will take place remains to be determined, according to Johnsen.
“We’re going to wait and see how things develop. Obviously we want very, very much to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of our students at commencement, but we are not going to do that and endanger the safety of our students, our faculty, our employees and the community,” he said. “So that’s on hold for now.”
While events larger than 25 individuals are being canceled in person, White noted a number of forums are still being held next week specific to expedited academic review.
“They’re being canceled in their in-person form,” White said, “but they already were planned to be web-streamed and available over the internet and telephone and so before you look to see if something is or assume that something is outright canceled, check to see if it’s going to be held by video or by phone as we expect many of our things, including classes to go forward in that way — and we will also keep communicating.”
Students are asked to leave on-campus residence halls by Tuesday.
“We are asking students who are living in residence halls to either stay at their permanent residences if they have traveled there for spring break or to make plans to return to their permanent or alternative residences by March 17,” Johnsen said. “We understand that students need temporary access to residence halls in order to retain personal items, study materials and the like, so we will certainly accommodate that, but it will only be an exception where students are going to be permitted to remain in their residence on our campuses.”
Exceptions noted by Johnsen included international students and students from rural communities.
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