In universities and colleges nation and worldwide, much has changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week, St. Augustine University’s president died of Covid-19. Notre Dame’s President tested positive for Covid-19 after attending President Trump’s announcement of Alumna Amy Covey Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court on the South lawn of the White House. The University of Chicago’s Business School went completely online because of a party super-spreader event among its students. The University of Florida paused its football program and Kutztown University in Pennsylvania lost 1000 of its 3300 students registered to live on campus to their choice for online courses, and it instituted a furlough policy for faculty. A University of North Carolina Greensboro study, “College, Mobility and the Incidence of Openings” by Martin Anderson noted a 10% greater incidence, resulting in 1.19 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 tests in out of state students.
In New England, the University of New Hampshire reported, on October 12, 104 positive faculty and staff Covid-19 cases, and Middlebury College announced that its January term would be virtual, with students returning for the spring semester two weeks later than last year. Similarly, Bowdoin juniors and seniors will return to campus for the spring term two weeks later than in prior years. At Northeastern University, a federal court judge in Massachusetts dismissed a case brought before it, requesting a refund of tuition and payments, except for the campus recreation fee. Sacred Heart College in Connecticut threatened to send students home if their Covid-19 policy was not adhered to, after 119 cases tested positive, mostly in students housed off-campus.
Don Kimes, Chairman of the Studio Art Department at American University in Washington, D.C. wrote to me, “We’re doing hybrid style – things that work well online (the lecture side of classes) are being done with Zoom. Doing a good bit of IRL (“in real life”) with grad students in their studios, but that’s all one on one. They are working on campus in their studios–very good monitoring by the university so far (our current university president, Sylvia Burwell, oversaw Obama’s response to Ebola). There was never any question about shutting down after mid-summer. Any of our group critiques are being done through Zoom with student work being shown online. Also, the great thing has been the ability to visit with artists in their studios and conduct live online artist lectures in different cities. That’s exploded during the pandemic and it’s been great. Much to my surprise we’re getting really positive comments from the grad students and didn’t lose students in the incoming class. The incoming class seems to be very pleased that they are here. I’m actually feeling pretty good about the positive side of things–I’d miss the smell of paint, but I’m doing the online teaching in my studio.”
At Maine College of Art in Portland (MECA), Maine, students have been on campus since the beginning of the semester, with in-person, hybrid and online instruction. Studio access is prioritized as are small instructional groups. Partnered with MIT and Harvard, to provide testing, tests are administered weekly to each student. Temperatures are checked daily. Social distancing is not difficult in the 200,000 square feet of studio and instructional space for its 500 students, but where it is not possible, masks or shields are required. Consequently, of 4,411 tests administered weekly from August 20-October 12, 2020, 0 were positive for Covid-19. As Maine has low rates for positive Covid-19 cases, MECA has required that students who travel outside Maine for more than 24 hours register with Student Life and have a test and results reported before return to class. Its fall semester will end on November 25, with all work due by December 18, and any student leaving for Thanksgiving must register and produce a negative test result for Covid-19 administered by MECA upon return. But Maine College of Art has students in the studios as well as online, and everyone seems happy with the way MECA has handled the program.
These procedures are complicated and time-consuming, but university students have adapted well to the new requirements and continue to study and learn and proceed with their curriculum and lives amidst the ever-changing academic world. Kudos to the professors, the teachers and especially the students for their positive attitudes, their determination and their cooperation to keep colleges and universities safe at this time.