Ball State University officials are trying to calm faculty fears about the campus’s coronavirus safety plan before in-person classes begin in two weeks, after some faculty have said the school’s reopening plan doesn’t protect everyone’s health.
A letter, signed by 240 faculty members, said faculty want to get to decide whether to teach on-campus or online, and the ability to change that decision if necessary. But in a virtual town hall meeting, Ball State Provost Susana Rivera-Mills said one change like that creates a domino effect.
“The decision of one faculty member to change modality onto an online course literally impacts hundreds of students’ schedules," Rivera-Mills said. "So it isn’t just about the faculty member and the 30 students that I’m teaching.”
She said every classroom used this fall will meet the six-foot social distancing recommendation. To accommodate larger classes, some will meet in “non-traditional spaces” – like Emens Auditorium and athletic fields.
In-person classes at Ball State begin Aug. 24. Students will stay on-campus through Thanksgiving, then move to online classes for the last three weeks of the first semester.
University President Geoffrey Mearns reiterated what the school has already said – students and employees don’t need to be tested for COVID-19 to come back to campus. They must self-certify they are negative and self-report any positive COVID test to the school. Mearns addressed the skeptics who think students won’t distance or wear masks.
“All we’ve had to see over the last few months is how our students and how college students and young people all across the country have energized and mobilized around – the energy around social justice," Mearns said. "And so I think we should have some more confidence that they understand and appreciate the challenge we face and the need to join with us in defeating the virus.”
Rivera-Mills said Ball State students can choose to have an on-campus schedule or an online one. A student signed up for an on-campus class cannot ask the professor to teach that class online for them. The only exception is if an on-campus student has to quarantine because of COVID.
Mearns said Ball State is currently acquiring a stockpile of rapid COVID tests, in case the university has to test a large group of people quickly if there’s an outbreak.
Ball State said it will have a COVID-19 dashboard on its website, which will be ready Monday. But it will only list those tests conducted at the university health center or through a partnership with IU Health. It will not include positive tests from other testing sites, instead linking to the statewide dashboard.
Mearns said Ball State will monitor things like any local increase in cases, the percent of positive tests, and whether people are actually distancing and wearing masks to decide any changes. And, he said, some changes may not be up to the school.
“You know, we didn’t make the decision in March to go to remote learning and to have students move out of our residence halls. That was as a result of a clear directive from the state and the county," Mearns said. "None of us know whether that will happen again, but certainly, that would preempt any of our protocols and our decisions.”
Ball State officials said they’ll take lessons from the fall semester into account when they plan for spring classes.