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University campus experience will be different this year

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There is a real joy to being a student on the campus of a major university. The experience, the learning opportunities and the friends change a person’s life. With COVID-19, the joy of a campus experience is even more tempered by the essential need to have a safe and healthy experience.

The Arizona Board of Regents has taken the essential step of developing Principles for COVID-19 response planning in collaboration with the presidents. The principles promote the health and safety of students, faculty and staff. They address how continued operations can be carried out with testing, contact tracing, social distancing, face coverings, and changes to physical facilities, policies, communication and behavior.

Larry Penley

Larry Penley

The campus experience will be real this fall. But it will be different. Once-full lecture halls won’t look the same. Technology will be present in virtually every classroom. There will be limits on numbers of students in classes and laboratories. Face-to-face learning environments will be supported with synchronous remote learning and online learning experiences. Students will find that class schedules may be spread out in a way that reduces the number of individuals on campus at any given time. Residence halls will not permit outside visitors. All three universities have amassed millions of dollars of supplies. They are reconfiguring classrooms and refining policies, directives and protocols.

We are moving forward to open our three universities this fall. Why? Our three presidents and their teams understand the risks and they have the means to mitigate risks. What they are doing in this very different time marks them as leaders. In fact, Arizona’s outstanding public universities are a leading example to other universities across the country that are taking their cue from our universities on how to create as safe a learning experience as possible.

The board has supported collaboration where there are common needs for procurement and testing. But there is no single way to implement the board’s principles. The principles will be expressed in different ways by the three public universities.

Examples include:

  • Arizona State University is offering three options for learning this fall: ASU immersion – the on-campus, technology enhanced learning; ASU Sync – technology-enhanced, interactive remote learning that can be used simultaneously with some in-person instruction; and iCourses – courses delivered entirely online with lectures available on demand.
  • Northern Arizona University is using NAUFlex, a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning to ensure a quality and highly personal experience on the Flagstaff campus, also offering students the opportunity to continue their education where they live at 20 locations around the state, and continues its long history of online offerings. NAU will also start and end the fall semester early to take advantage of lower student travel and a period of expected lower COVID-19 case rates.
  • The University of Arizona, as part of its overarching campus re-entry plan, will provide two masks for every student, staff and faculty member, allow both double and single occupancy rooms, a selection of standard meal plan options and will announce final plans for fall in July. In addition, they will closely monitor COVID science and best practice to inform necessary modifications to their plans.

Arizona universities are indispensable partners in our state’s public health response to COVID-19 and to Arizona’s economic growth. The Arizona Board of Regents will continue to work closely with university leaders toward a successful academic year – and the joy that comes from the campus experience.

Larry E. Penley is chair of the Arizona Board of Regents.

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