AUSTIN, Texas — Rigorous steps to create a safe environment while advancing teaching and research underpin The University of Texas at Austin’s plan for reopening during the fall semester.
The plan, “Protect Texas Together,” was built with flexibility in mind for students, faculty members, staff members and visitors, in the event of significant changes in public health conditions.
Key points include campus testing protocols, the option for students to experience the full semester online, protocols for campus residence halls, and previously announced plans to limit classroom capacity and require students to complete the fall semester remotely after the Thanksgiving break.
“Our goal with this plan — as it has been from the beginning — is to create an environment that is as safe as possible for all community members, while reigniting the learning, teaching and research that make our university the outstanding place that it is,” interim President Jay Hartzell wrote in a letter to campus. “Today’s plan provides a framework for the fall that is designed to accommodate the dynamic environment we’re facing and enable us to adapt to changes in the prevalence of COVID-19 in Austin and throughout Texas. And I know that things are changing every day.”
“Protect Texas Together” emphasizes the responsibility each member of the UT community has to all other members, recognizing that “responsible behavior is not only necessary for getting back to the business of education and research, but in the current context is a deeply ethical issue.”
Faculty, staff and students in six working groups have worked since April to develop the detailed plan. Their guiding principles included the health of the UT community and a recognition that remote learning will be critical to the continuity of education but that the university can fully carry out its mission only by both returning to campus and returning safely.
Public health directives published with the plan emphasize the importance of social distancing, wearing cloth masks, sensitivity to high-risk groups, making sure people stay home when sick, and accommodating the schedules of people with significant family care responsibilities.
“We recognized from the outset that the university must remain flexible due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic,” said Psychology Professor and director of UT’s IC2 Institute Art Markman, who led the working group on academic planning. “The university will continually monitor the public health environment and adjust plans as needed to maintain a safe environment that creates a first-class educational and collegiate experience for our students.”
Notable provisions include:
- Students may choose to experience the full fall semester online and should assess how this decision affects their path towards graduation.
- To aid social distancing, no more than 40% of seats in a classroom will be occupied.
- There will be three modes of classes: online, in-person and hybrid, which will have both in-person and remote learning elements.
- All courses will have the same tuition rates.
- Health and Wellness
- Wearing cloth masks will be mandatory inside university buildings except when alone in a private office, while eating in a campus dining facility or for students in their own residence hall rooms. Wearing of cloth masks outdoors will be encouraged.
- Daily symptom screenings for students, faculty members and staff members will help keep the campus community safer.
- This summer UT will release a new app that will offer testing and public health information and help UT community members self-monitor.
- UT testing labs are expected to be able to process up to 1,500 tests per day during the fall.
- Residence Halls
- All university-owned residence halls will open Aug. 20 with a new process to safely move in.
- Residence halls will operate with social distancing measures and cloth mask requirements in place.
- Most rooms in residence halls will be slated as double occupancy, with a limited number of single occupancy rooms.
- Graduate student apartments will operate as usual, with social distancing measures and cloth mask requirements in place.
- Faculty members
- Faculty members may choose to hold office hours on campus while adhering to campus safety and social distancing guidelines, or remotely (via Zoom or another technology solution).
- Faculty members with medical conditions or other risk factors placing them at high risk for COVID-19 can request an accommodation using the Americans with Disabilities Act process to teach remotely or use alternative options.
- Instructors with a household member at high risk for COVID-19 can request flexible teaching arrangements.
- Staff members and student employees
- Staff members who are able to perform their job duties from home will continue to do so into the fall with approval of their managers.
- Student employees will work with their supervisors to determine their working modality and expectations, whether working in person, remote or hybrid.
- Graduate and International Students
- Given likely delays for international students trying to get into the United States, graduate programs should be flexible about allowing them to defer admission.
- The university will follow CDC recommendations and U.S. State Department guidelines regarding international travelers self-quarantining before returning to campus.
- This summer, UT implemented a plan to reopen research activity across campus. Detailed information can be found in the Research Restart
- Policies and procedures for hosting athletics events are still being developed working with state, local and Big 12 Conference health and safety guidelines.
- UT expects to narrow event scenarios under consideration by the first week of August.
- For more information, see the Texas Athletics COVID-19 procedures and updates.
The complete details of the plan are available at https://protect.utexas.edu/.
The website will be updated continually throughout the summer and beyond.