UMD President Wallace Loh announces preliminary plans to “de-densify” campus in the fall

Shortly after the University System of Maryland announced that its institutions would combine remote learning with at least some in-person instruction for the fall semester, the University of Maryland released a preliminary overview of what things will look like as the campus reopens.

Much is still up in the air. According to an email from university President Wallace Loh, faculty and staff serving on seven workgroups at the university have spent the last several weeks developing plans for a “phased re-opening” of the campus. Additional details from these plans will be released by June 15, according to the email sent Friday.

“Everyone should understand that this is a fluid environment,” Loh wrote in the email. “The re-opening of the campus this fall is subject to changing conditions and must be in compliance with federal, state, county, and USM guidance.”

For one, although instruction this fall will include a mixture of in-person, online and blended learning, students should expect many of their classes for the semester to be virtual, Loh wrote. This will be necessary to reduce classroom capacity and ensure that proper distancing is enforced between students, faculty and staff, he added.

Additionally, Loh wrote, the university will move to “de-densify” the campus, reducing the number of individuals residing in dorms and visiting dining halls. The university is also working to provide students with the option of taking classes exclusively online, Loh wrote.

Furthermore, according to the email, the university has been surveying faculty members about instruction, with the objective to accommodate those who prefer to teach online in the fall. Already, numerous history professors have announced they will be holding their classes online for the fall semester.

[USM announces plans for mix of in-person and remote instruction for fall semester]

The announcement also comes after Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced the county would begin to lift some COVID-19 safety restrictions on June 1. As a result, Loh wrote, on-campus research will be able to gradually begin again.

As for staff members, Loh explained that the workgroup charged with tackling reopening plans from a human resources perspective is finalizing a phased approach for returning to work on campus. Some staff and faculty will keep working from home, and those who return should expect to see measures taken to reduce their contact with others, Loh wrote.

And everyone, Loh wrote, should expect a “different fiscal environment” for the coming academic year. Another workgroup, led by administration and finance vice president Carlo Colella, has been developing strategies to offset the loss of revenues and increase in new expenses the university has experienced. The university system announced Wednesday that it anticipates universities will need to enact furloughs and layoffs amid budget shortfalls.

In order to comply with federal, state and local regulations, each system university will also have in place certain safeguards, including the ability to monitor potential COVID-19 symptoms among campus community members, coordinate contact tracing and thoroughly and frequently clean campus buildings, according to the system’s announcement on Friday.

This university is working with system and public health officials to ensure it has the appropriate protocols, equipment and personnel for testing, screening and contact tracing before the fall semester begins, Loh wrote.

“Though these are uncertain and trying circumstances, we are committed to providing a world-class education and to safeguarding our research mission,” he wrote. “We must persevere together with grit and innovation. This is how the University of Maryland will emerge from this crisis, even stronger than before.”

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