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UWA plans for students to be on campus in the fall

UWA student in hammock
Most of the daily life on campus came to a screeching halt in March in response to COVID-19, and plans are underway for a phased return for employees and fall return for students.

This week marks a milestone for the University of West Alabama, one that has seemingly been a major goal for many weeks now—the end of the Spring 2020 semester. Most of the daily life on campus came to a screeching halt in March to comply with federal and state orders and prevention guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

“We have remained committed and have aspired to making it through this academic term successfully despite unprecedented changes and challenges resulting from COVID-19, all with the primary goal of maintaining health and safety while guiding students to the next steps in their academic and career journeys,” said UWA President Ken Tucker. “This is not the atmosphere we envisioned when the semester began in January, nor is it the atmosphere we intend to maintain once orders are lifted and guidelines are relaxed. We anticipate having on-campus classes this fall, and are taking all necessary steps to maintain a safe environment when the regular schedule resumes.” 

UWA has been working on its approach and processes to safely return students to campus since March 16, when most residential students began early checkout from campus residences and commuting students did not return to campus since classes transitioned to online instruction. University employees have been working remotely since then, minimizing essential time on campus in order to maintain social distance. This minimal staffing structure was implemented out of precaution prior to the governor’s stay-at-home order, and a task force has been established to determine the best approach for employees resuming daily operations on campus when workplace restrictions are lifted statewide and conditions are deemed safe.

“I expect the back-to-work task force will deliver innovative, creative, thoughtful, and realistic solutions for campus operations, all of which must be in compliance with healthcare and government guidelines,” Tucker said. “We believe our campus has some unique assets, such as an already low student-to-faculty ratio, a spacious campus with flexible meeting spaces, and a sense of understanding and familiarity with students and colleagues often uncommon in higher education institutions, that can make this full-circle transition easier and more feasible.”

“Just as we have creatively worked together to overcome so many challenges thus far to help our students see a successful end to this semester, we are committed to remaining diligent in our efforts to safely maintain operations with great anticipation for the Fall 2020 semester,” Tucker said. “As they have throughout this crisis, state and federal orders, regulations, and guidance will continue steering our operations, and we look forward to an exciting Fall semester that restores a sense of familiarity, tradition, and togetherness when orders are eased.”

Students who looked forward to this week the most, perhaps, are those graduating. Spring Commencement exercises were originally scheduled for May 9, but the event has been tentatively rescheduled for July 31, pending federal and state guidelines surrounding COVID-19. UWA Provost Tim Edwards announced in April that summer campus classes will be delivered online, with no in-person class meetings for the summer. Heightened sanitation and disinfecting efforts continue throughout campus, helping to minimize risks for those who must be on campus and to help prepare for a phased approach to returning to campus.

“To be quite honest, our goals for the Fall 2020 semester are much the same as before the pandemic took hold of our daily activities—a promising freshman class on campus enjoying the college experience, course, faculty and staff rosters all full, academic enrichment, athletic victories, and exciting events teeming with unity and school pride,” Tucker explained. “We believe we can accomplish these, even if the days look a little different with continued social distancing and other protocols that are urged for our protection.”