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University Of Akron Announces Plans For Fall 2021 In-Person Instruction

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations is part of why the university administration feels safe bringing students back to campus in the fall.[The University of Akron]
Students walking across the University of Akron campus.

Updated: 5:43 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021

The University of Akron plans to bring a majority of students back to in-person instruction on campus for the fall semester of 2021, according to plans outlined by the university in a Thursday announcement.

A majority of classes on the university’s main campus in Akron and branches in Orrville, Medina and Lakewood will be conducted in classrooms, according to a press release. Akron’s administration feels it will be safe for most classes to return to in-person instruction in part because of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, the release said.

“We’ve just decided that we’re going to be optimistic about this, that people will have vaccines, and that we will be able to have classes that are three-foot spacing, instead of the six-foot that’s currently recommended,” John Wiencek, the uiniversity’s executive vice president and provost told ideastream Thursday.

The university  has relied primarily on remote learning during the pandemic, with limited in-person classes for labs and other hands-on learning. The administration will abide by state and federal guidelines to prioritize the health and safety of students, staff and faculty, according to the release.

Classes will be split between three-foot and six-foot distancing options, Wiencek said, and roughly 20 percent of courses will continue remotely. Contingency plans for course delivery, including increased social distancing and virtual options, will also be developed for use on an as-needed basis.

“Socially distant and virtual sections will not require any changes even if we have a COVID resurgence, so these offerings will provide a solid foundation for faculty and student schedules this fall,” the university said in the return plan on its website.

Students and faculty with health risks related to COVID-19 will be accommodated, Wiencek said.

“We’re required to accommodate both students and faculty in that regard, and we have been doing so in the past year,” Wiencek said. “We’ll continue to do so into the future. We’re used to doing that kind of thing.”

Campus housing options will allow students to choose whether they want to have a roommate and the on-campus living requirement for freshmen will be waived. Options for students who want to live without a roommate will vary depending on availability, the university said.

“While we strongly believe the residential experience benefits students academically and socially, we want all students who desire a UA education to have the opportunity to attend this fall, regardless of their housing arrangements,” the university’s stateme said.

All dining spaces are expected to be open, and group dining will be available if conditions allow. Recreational activities, including new student orientation, will include a mix of in-person, on campus and virtual events.

The University of Akron is awaiting guidance on sporting events from the NCAA and Mid-American Conference, but plans to allow a limited number of spectators.

“It’s all around who can spectate, what kind of crowds will be there, what the distancing will be,” Wiencek said. “I think those are even more uncertain than what’s going on in the classroom.”

Study abroad programs will resume “as soon as it is safe to do so,” according to the school.

University administrators are confident students will be safe in classrooms, Wiencek said, where masks and cleaning protocols can be enforced. The university also is trying to push messaging about good behavior outside of class, but will likely continue to need a quarantine and isolation policy for when students get sick, Wiencek said.

“These are young adults who are learning what it means to be an adult. Sometimes, the only way that you can learn as a human being is to go out and make a mistake and learn from that,” Wiencek said. “We are going to have students that make mistakes, and that just points to the importance of testing and contact tracing and making sure we appropriately isolate.”

Funding during the pandemic has been a struggle for the university, which faced a $65 million shortfall in its budget before the 2020-21 semester. The administration  made cuts to make up the difference, including  consolidating 11 colleges down to five and  laying off nearly 200 staff and faculty.

But university administrators announced earlier this month it would  restore employee wages to pre-pandemic levels after receiving federal financial assistance and revising its budget forecast. Those funds have helped the university balance its budget for the next few years, Wiencek said, but the university will need higher enrollment to aid its financial status after that.

“If enrollment numbers turn in the positive direction, we’re going to be on our way to having revenue and expenses matched,” Wiencek said, “and then we can start focusing on our mission and the things that have always made the University of Akron great.”