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Some UMD faculty consider putting all classes online

Updated: August 19, 2020 09:48 PM

Faculty at the University of Minnesota Duluth's largest college are considering putting all their courses online if administrators don't meet some requests to make better preparations to handle COVID-19 infections when classes resume this fall.

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Swenson College of Science and Engineering department heads sent a letter to Chancellor Lendley Black on Monday asking for an on-campus testing site, daily updates on positive cases, notifications if students test positive and clear online options for students.

The full list includes: 

  • Consistent communication (emails run through deans before being sent to faculty)
  • Make an online option clear for students
  • A campus testing site for all in the UMD community
  • Daily updates on positive cases
  • Notification if a student in their class tests positive
  • Clear guidance on online course transition in case of illness
  • A sunset plan (what triggers a pullback)

The letter requests administrators implement the changes before classes resume Aug. 31.

"Please work with us to reduce the anxiety around the fall semester by addressing these issues," the letter read. "Some of our departments are considering transitioning all remaining classes fully online and emailing students about why we need to do this, but we know this would be highly divisive if done at a department level. We would much prefer to work with you and your team."

Andrea Schokker, the department head for Civil Engineering, was one of the people who wrote the letter. She said they understand there are no easy answers, but they still want clarity. 

"We wanted to make sure in a timely manner that we could get some of the answers to these questions," Schokker said. "It was meant to be an internal conversation with our administration, who we trust enough to have this kind of blunt back-and-forth."

UMD issued a statement Wednesday saying hundreds of instructors participated in professional development over the summer to learn more about partial online course delivery. Still, the university said as enrollment stands now, 79% of undergraduate students will have at least one class that includes in-person instruction.

The university said its facilities management teams are enhancing regular housekeeping practices with frequent cleaning and sanitization of door handles, railings, and elevator panels.

In residence halls, some rooms will be assigned fewer occupants. Move-in will be stretched from one to three days, and welcome week will be conducted virtually before students arrive on campus.

The Minnesota Department of Health does not recommend campus-wide testing. 

"We don't have an infinite supply of testing, and so we want to be sure that testing is done to those who really need it for a variety of reasons," State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said during a Wednesday update. 

They would recommend students get tested if they have symptoms, a known exposure or an upcoming medical procedure that requires it. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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