Fall 2020 committee addresses concerns, clarifies policies at town hall

President James Ryan and various members of the UVA Fall 2020 Committee held a virtual town hall Friday to clarify several policies that the University has adopted to mitigate spread of COVID-19.

President Ryan started the webinar by addressing concerns from the community that an in-person semester is too risky given the rising number of coronavirus cases, both nationally and locally. 

“I recognize that our decision to take a phased approach to reopening Grounds and to delay in-person courses and move-in to residence halls for undergraduates is not universally popular,” Ryan said. “Some are wondering why we don’t just decide now that we’re going to be online all semester.”

He said that he believed the mission of the University ⁠— “to educate students, conduct research, and provide medical care ⁠— is better done in-person. 

Ryan also said he believed there would be risks with a fully online semester as well, especially for students who struggle with online coursework or do not have a safe home environment.

“We’re cautiously optimistic at this point, in part because we’ve had close to 2,000 students back on Grounds already,” Ryan said. “All that said, as we’ve said from the beginning, if we have to change course, we will.”

Ryan said they will avoid further delays to the start of the semester, and that they will make a final “go/no-go” decision by the end of August.

The committee also clarified several policies for to the fall semester.

Of note is the University’s plans for enforcement of health guidelines, which Tim Heaphy, University counsel, addressed.

He said violations by students of UVA’s health guidelines can be reported to the Just Report It system, and a separate system will be made available to Charlottesville community members to report violations.

“If there is refusal to comply, if there are repeated violations, or very serious ones, those are the issues where we will address with enforcement,” Heaphy said. “That could be the Dean of Students interim suspending someone or taking action against an organization.”

Heaphy emphasized that UVA’s standards of conduct ⁠— which includes a section on endangering the health of others ⁠— apply to the greater Charlottesville and Albemarle communities as well as Grounds. 

The clarifications for enforcement come after a summer’s worth of online concerns that students will hold large gatherings this fall, especially after several midsummer parties blatantly ignored social distancing. The limit for gatherings this fall will be 15 people.

Liz Magill, Executive VP and Provost, said that academics have adjusted well so far to a hybrid semester. 

She detailed plans for social-distancing in classrooms, noting that classroom capacity has been reduced by about two-thirds, and that the average 30-person classroom now can only hold about 10-12 students.

Magill said about 30% of overall courses and 23% of undergraduate courses will be in-person in some capacity this fall.

Other notable updates include:

JJ Davis, Chief Operating Officer, mentioned during the Q&A portion that there will be housing and dining rebates because of the delay on move-in.

President Ryan clarified there are no plans to lower tuition, but instead tuition will be waived for J-term and Summer 2021 courses, as previously announced.

Addressing concerns of community spread, Craig Kent, Executive VP for Health Affairs, said they are working with Charlottesville to increase testing in the community and that the hospital capacity in the area is large enough to handle a spike in cases, if there is one.


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