The University of Redlands will not be reopening its campus for the beginning of the fall 2020 academic semester. For how long remains undetermined. This decision was made 54 days after the University’s initial announcement on June 5 that students would in fact be returning to campus.
Why the shift in plans? Everything had changed.
According to the New York Times, there were 3,593 new reported cases of COVID-19 in California with a 7-day average of 2,781 on June 5. This was ten days after Governor Newsom reopened the state on May 25.
Although the virus continued to spread, newly-lifted restrictions created a false sense of safety for many. California momentarily had fewer cases than several other states in the country, most notably New York, and appeared to be faring quite well for its massive population and high volume of immigration.
On June 23, Dean Kendrick Brown sent out an email to the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) about the precautions being made for the upcoming semester. These included measuring classrooms to ensure seating complied with social distancing standards, requiring students to wear face masks in class, and sanitizing surfaces before and after each class period.
Furthermore, it was announced that in early July students would be allowed to add/drop their fall courses according to the learning modality that best suited them (in-person, hybrid, or online).
Another email was sent out to CAS students on July 2 detailing the nuances of each learning modality. 209 (27.2%) courses were expected to be fully online, 277 (36.1%) with hybrid instruction, and 282 (36.7%) completely in-person.
In-person meetings were expected to proceed under a traditional classroom setting with the exception of health and safety guidelines taking place (i.e. social distancing, mask-wearing, and both students and professors sanitizing surfaces).
Online courses would (and will continue to) reflect what University students experienced last spring semester: virtual communication via Webex (or another video conferencing service) in place of their in-person lectures. However, classes would take place either synchronously, asynchronously, or vary between each at the professor’s discretion.
Synchronous learning consists of students meeting online simultaneously to interact with one another and their professors. Asynchronous learning allows students to go online at various times to complete their work, which breeds a more flexible, albeit more individualistic approach to courses.
Hybrid instruction attempts to merge these two together, combining both in-person meetings and online technicalities.
The Redlands Bulldog spoke to History Professor Kathy Feeley about her plans for the semester before the University’s official announcement on July 29.
“I am teaching the History Department capstone course this fall as a so-called ‘HyFlex’ course,” wrote Professor Feeley in an email. “The capstone is scheduled for Tuesday/Thursday from 8-9:20 AM.”
Students enrolled in the course and on campus were expected to meet in Hall of Letters 205 with face masks and to socially distance from one another. Students not on campus would be logging into a video conferencing app at 8 AM to participate in class.
It was expected that everyone would be either meeting in-person or online remotely for the scheduled and allotted class time. Students could therefore attend class solely in-person, online, or with a combination of the two.
“HyFlex is just one example of what a hybrid course might look like,” Feeley said. “Another hybrid course might have online, all-class lecture and discussion on Mondays and Wednesdays and in-person, socially distanced labs on Fridays.”
In summary, hybrid courses would have varied drastically for each particular class and student. Not only would this have required a higher level of student planning and scheduling, but it would have been emotionally exhausting as well.
Suppose a student was taking three Tuesday/Thursday hybrid courses. One of them would meet online on Tuesdays and in-person on Thursdays. The other two would meet in-person on Tuesdays and online Thursdays, but only every other week. Therefore, every week the student would decipher whether or not Tuesday and Thursday classes were meeting only online. Further, a professor may decide to strictly hold in-person meetings for the second half of the semester, as COVID developments are ongoing.
This would create unnecessary stress for students attempting to align their hybrid courses with their schedules.
It is likely this played a fundamental role in the University reversing its decision to return to campus. All-online classes may not be the optimal or technologically-equitable way to learn, but it’s the most feasible given the circumstances.
However, as we approached mid-July the University continued to plan for the reopening of campus.
A “What to Expect this Fall” page was created on the University’s website on July 7 which detailed the nuances of what several aspects of campus life would look like once students returned.
In summary, all Greek Life events were cancelled, club meetings were to be limited to health and safety guidelines, most athletic seasons were postponed, and housing was to continue under modified conditions.
Students were not to be tested on a daily basis or even as soon as they arrived on campus, but only upon seeking COVID-19 testing from the Student Health Center. No in-person events were to take place for the first two weeks of the semester. Furthermore, a team of contact tracers were to be put in place for every student who tested positive.
Yet the reported rate of COVID-19 cases became increasingly alarming as the month progressed, and on July 13, Gov. Newsom ordered a state-wide reclosure of indoor dining, bars, zoos, and museums.
Less than two weeks later, on July 22, California exceeded New York State in the number of reported COVID-19 cases.
Seven days later the University announced that campus is no longer reopening. 12,904 new cases were reported on July 29 with a 7-day average of 9,332 in California.
Daily COVID-19 cases quadrupled in their rate from when the University made its first announcement to return to campus 54 days prior.
Today, San Bernardino county is the fourth highest county in California with 33,643 confirmed cases.
So what changed from June 5 to July 29? The costs exceeded the benefits.
The state of California quickly became a hotspot for a virus in a nation which was already a global hotspot.
Changing restrictions from the Governor and an awareness of the painstaking modifications to be made to our tiny college all pointed in one direction: a virtual fall 2020 semester. The necessary work to be done was not worth the risk.
Although Dean Brown has assured students in his latest email that the University of Redlands community will prevail even through 13-inch LED screens and butterfly keyboards, one thing remains true: this upcoming semester will be like no other.
Students will effectively begin and end their course load without meeting a single person face-to-face in one of their classes. To deny this will create a fundamentally different college experience is to deny why we are doing it in the first place: to protect others.
So although online learning cannot replace in-person connection, students are simply enduring a wave to bypass a tsunami. The University has prioritized safety over in-person experiences as a final decision to a question much of the nation is grappling with.