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Statement on Returning to Campus

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a tumultuous time in Ohio higher education. The emergency shutdown of our colleges and universities has drastically changed the nature of instruction, as well as the financial situations of our institutions.

This past semester, faculty across Ohio rose to the challenge of moving courses online, holding virtual office hours, adapting materials, and doing everything in our power to ensure that our students stayed on track. This was no small feat, but we are committed to our students’ success. 

Unfortunately, refunds to students, student withdrawals, reductions in state subsidy, and other issues culminated in severe budget problems for institutions, many of which were already dealing with financial troubles. This has resulted in numerous terminations of vital faculty and staff.

Despite strong online summer enrollments at a number of institutions, the fall semester remains a question mark. Undoubtedly, a major part of the college and university experience for students is physically being on campus — being among peers and engaging in face-to-face instruction. 

Many Ohio institutions already have announced broad plans for a physical return to campus. We are keenly aware that the financial impact of not being on campus at all may result in a further erosion of revenue that would be unsustainable for most institutions.

However, the leading medical experts in our state and nation have called into question the safety of being on campus again this year. The nature of living in residence calls, sharing enclosed spaces such as lecture halls, as well as student gatherings on and off campus facilitate a breeding ground for infectious diseases like COVID-19. 

We call upon each college and university administration to work closely with faculty, staff, and students on developing plans for fall semester. Among the issues that should be addressed if face-to-face instruction should resume in any fashion: 

  1. The preservation of academic freedom by granting faculty the final say in instructional delivery, with special considerations given to faculty with underlying medical conditions;
  2. Required mask-wearing and encouragement of frequent hand-washing/sanitizing;
  3. Initial and periodic testing of students and faculty for infection, especially since many who are infected remain asymptomatic; contact tracing and isolation for anyone who tests positive; 
  4. Reconfiguration of classrooms, residence halls, and dining halls to ensure proper physical distancing;
  5. Other measures that encourage the entire campus community to practice social distancing and good hygiene. 

No matter the precautions taken, there is great risk in moving forward with campus re-openings. The only way to successfully avoid compromising the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students is for everyone in our campus communities to buy-in to a new (hopefully temporary) culture that focuses on safety. The only way to have buy-in is for everyone to participate in these critical decisions.

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