MSU, MUW plan to bring students back to campus for fall semester


Sid Salter, left, and Nora Miller

Sid Salter, left, and Nora Miller



Isabelle Altman



Officials at both Mississippi State University and Mississippi University for Women are making plans to have students back on campus for the fall semester.


Both universities have formed task forces made up of committees of administrators, faculty, staff and students to help implement new policies to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for social distancing and keep students, university employees and others on campus safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.


"We are looking forward to having people on campus again, but trying to figure out a way to do it safely," MUW President Nora Miller told The Dispatch on Thursday.



In March, both universities shut down campus activities and on-site classes and implemented distance learning for the remainder of the spring semester, later announcing summer classes would also be online.


MSU Chief Communications Officer and Director Sid Salter said the MSU's task force -- which is made up of 12 members including the director of university health services and student association president -- is coming up with contingency plans for a variety of scenarios, including what to do if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in a university dormitory.


"All those contingencies are being considered," Salter told The Dispatch. "Safety is our No. 1 priority, and it will be throughout the process."


Both Miller and Salter said that even with students returning to campus, classes would likely look very different from the traditional in-person learning of students and faculty crowded together in one classroom.


"I think those who are looking for a one-size fits all scenario for fall 2020 probably need to focus on the fact that it will be some combination of online, hybrid, in-person and things that maybe haven't been utilized before, like looking at in-person instruction in large, nontraditional venues," Salter said. "Major auditoriums, even some discussion of utilizing (Humphrey Coliseum). When I tell you all contingencies are on the table in this process, the task force is debating, exploring, examining the alternatives that best fit Mississippi State moving forward."


Miller said that MUW - where all but 525 of last year's student population of roughly 2,800 lived off campus -- has an advantage over larger universities when it comes to enforcing social distancing. However, she too said classes would likely be a mixture of online and in-person learning.


"If it's a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class, there might be 30 students who would be in class on Monday, a different 30 on Wednesday and a different 30 on Friday, and the ones who weren't in the class would be participating online, something like that," she said. "... We're looking at different ways like that that those large classes can be accommodated with some in-person (learning). I do think that's going to be easier for us than for other campuses."


Miller said the task force members hope to have their recommendations finalized and to MUW administrators by July 1 at the latest.


Salter said MSU's task force does not have a deadline for completing its recommendations. Classes for fall semester begin Aug. 18, according to MSU's online academic calendar, but Salter said that date could move depending on the task force's recommendation and President Mark Keenum's decision.


Mississippi Institute of Higher Learning has set up its own "safe start" task force to help develop recommendations and guide each of the state's eight public universities to create their own plans and policies to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak for fall 2020. Two representatives from each university are on that task force, which is helmed by MSU Provost David Shaw.


Miller and Salter both stressed IHL's task force will come up with guidelines for the universities only and that universities themselves can adjust them to fit their own unique needs.


"It may be very different from one campus to another, depending on outbreaks in that area, depending on where your student body draws from," Miller said. "... But we all thought it would give us a comfort level of knowing we were all making decisions based on the same guidelines, that none of us were having to go out there on our own saying, 'Eh, I think this looks good.' We can all kind of rely on those recommendations to help us make decisions."





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