Thursday, September 10, 2020

Toggle Terms continue in September’s 2nd week; one student death


toggle switch by Alan LevineWay back in April – and doesn’t that seem like a long time ago? – I first offered the Toggle Term scenario.  Here’s some of what I wrote then:

Colleges and universities are now in perpetual crisis mode.  Their leadership teams scan pandemic news minutely, aided by their medical faculty, looking for signs of when they can welcome their community back on site, and when to send them away and flip the switch to entirely online work.

And so here we are in September’s second week.

Confirmed Toggle examples from this fall include: Colorado CollegeGettysburg CollegeJames Madison UniversityLock Haven UniversityNorth Carolina State UniversityNotre DameSUNY OneontaTemple Universitythe University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Wyoming.  Additionally, Temple University expanded its remote instruction period to cover the rest of fall 2020.  Leading public health figures are opposed to sending students home.

Over the past few days more instances have cropped up across the United States:

The University of West Virginia announced it would suspend in-person classes for several weeks.

Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 9, all undergraduate courses in Morgantown, with the exception of those Health Sciences courses with students already engaged in clinical rotation, will move online through Friday, Sept. 25. Graduate and professional courses will continue to be offered in person.

Winona State University quarantined students for two weeks:

The self-imposed quarantine will reduce the number of people physically present on campus for the next two weeks. Courses with face-to-face instruction will either shift entirely online, or if absolutely necessary, require increased precautions in order to continue in-person instruction. All employees who do not need to be physically present on campus will shift to remote work, and individual campus facilities and other areas may impose additional restrictions as needed.

Bradley University‘s president announced a two week quarantine, with students confined to housing and taking classes online.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced a two-week pause: on-campus quarantine plus online instruction.  Infection rates are rising, including in a couple of residence halls.  (Also see below)

After three weeks of classes Gettysburg College has announced most of a Toggle.  All students are sent home, except first-years, and also

All transfer students. All international students. Student teachers with placements in local schools. Residential & First-Year Programs (RAs and CAs) student leader staff. Student leaders charged with supporting a robust in-person co-curricular experience. Students who need access to campus facilities to complete their senior requirements for graduation, including capstones, laboratory research, and/or creative requirements. Students with a demonstrated need to stay on campus.

So that’s, what, 1/3rd of the student population remaining on campus?  1/4th?

At the same time as these college and university decisions there have also been cases of county health authorities urging campuses to suspend in-person education.  Inside Higher Ed reports on two.  In one instance the public authority negotiated with the private college to issue a joint statement which includes reducing town-gown in-person interaction.  In the other a country published recommendations, rather than orders, once COVID cases among the 18-24-year-old population (i.e., traditional undergrads) shot up.

Such situations can encourage campuses to follow Toggle Terms.  For example, the county where the University of Wisconsin-Madison is located asked the school to send dorm-dwelling students home.  More,

“If you live or work in the (Downtown) area, you should assume you were exposed to COVID-19 and monitor yourself for symptoms,” the agency said on Wednesday.

As of today Madison is quarantined, but hasn’t sent students home.

Just to check on my April forecast, here’s what I speculated about this angle:

Town-gown relations are actually quite close in this scenario, as both entities experience the same toggle process.  Universities and local authorities cooperate in this ongoing disaster management process.

That’s optimistic for some of these cases, but may describe accurately what’s gone on elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I’m also watching some campuses with rising infections numbers.  The University of Tennessee, for example:

“We now have 2,112 people in quarantine or self-isolation. Of these, 1,939 are students, split nearly equally between on-campus and off-campus residence,” [Chancellor Donde Plowman] said.
“Our case counts are going up way too fast, and we will need more drastic measures to stop the upward trajectory.”

Cases are rising in some of Pennsylvania’s public universities, eliciting student and faculty criticism.

We may also have experienced the first student death caused by COVID caught by being on campus.  Jamain Stephens was enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania, where he played football.  It’s not certain that the coronavirus killed him:

The high school had said that he died of coronavirus complications, but later said they heard that information from his close friends and they do not have an official confirmation on his cause of death.

If COVID is responsible, fall 2020 has experienced its first student pandemic death.

Will this death, if COVID-caused, spur more campuses to short-term or full semester Toggle decisions?

(thanks to Tony Moretti, Todd Bryant, this Chronicle article, and Thomas Tobin)