By Jasmine Williams
There will be many changes to the fall semester for students returning to UT-Martin but the health and safety of the faculty and the students is the top priority for the fall.
UT-Martin’s Chancellor Keith Carver talked to the Enterprise about changes and new protocols for the fall semester affecting every student and worker.
UTM decided that for this upcoming fall, the semester’s schedule will be more condensed compared to the previous year. The semester begins later on August 17, there will be no break for Labor Day or fall break. The in-person portion of the semester will be completed before the Thanksgiving holiday. All courses will also have an option for finals to be done online after Thanksgiving and students will not be expected to return until the spring semester.
With the condensed semester, students will not be facing any penalties on grants and scholarships due to these COVID-19 related changes. Deadlines for UT-Martin scholarships and grants will also be changing their guidelines to better fit with students.
Incoming freshmen are also entering UT-Martin without an ACT score which will be done at a later date due to cancellations earlier in the year.
The university is using the summer to look at things the college offers and make students feel safe.
Carver said this about the planning process for the fall semester, “How can we still deliver a high-quality intimate educational experience with the new normal that we are living in? And we have devoted the summer to look into these activities, how we can provide what UT-Martin has been known to be. A small campus with an intimate learning experience, taught by faculty and how we can do that in the COVID life now.”
Students and faculty on campus must wear a mask at all times in the fall semester. Mask will be made available to be used by students and faculty who do not already bring a mask with them. Carver said this about individuals who might not want to wear a mask, “As a community, it is our responsibility to keep folks safe. So we are asking everyone to wear a mask and the expectation is that they will abide by that. If not, hopefully, a reminder on protocols can be made.”
Some places on campus will have Plexiglas installed in various offices and classrooms that have smaller spaces to further protect not only the workers but students who will come in contact with them. Public spaces such as administration offices could have Plexiglas installed for the fall semester. The university is also reaching out to each administrative office to ensure every place that could need Plexiglas installed does before the start of the semester.
The university officials are also looking to ensure they have enough supplies ready for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for the fall semester.
With cleaning on campus there will be more in-depth cleaning guidelines that will be mandated this fall. New equipment has been purchased by the university to ensure the best cleaning. Carver spoke about his feelings on having more guidelines for cleaning in place for the better health of everyone on campus, “One good thing about this is showing us new ways to clean for the safety of our students and staff.”
There will be a more frequent cleaning schedule on campus during the semester. With the new cleaning guidelines, there is currently no talk about hiring additional workers for cleaning. Carver said the cleaning staff at Martin has an exceptional work ethic and will be doing their best in the fall.
Even with these new cleaning guidelines, if students and staff who feel that in-person classes and work might not be the best option for their health, there will still be many ways to ensure the highest quality of education.
Professors who feel they have compromised health can offer classes online as needed. Students will also have more online options for classes in the fall. The university is planning for classes and a number of online options. Chancellor Carver did state every worker is planning for an instance that there is a spike in COVID cases. This will result in the university converting to entirely online classes. This is to ensure that in the event of a spike, there will be a much smoother transition to online classes compared to the previous spring semester.
For professor-student advising for the upcoming academic semester, it will differ for each individual. Some professors may choose to do all advising through emails or phone calls while others will want in-person meetings.
With class sizes and seating, there will also be changes. The State of Tennessee and Tennessee Higher Education Commission implemented new guidelines that all universities and colleges will be asked to follow in the fall. In-person classes will need to be only ten people inside at a time and those students will need to be spread throughout the classroom to reduce the spread of germs. Other classes that are completely online will be able to have more students enrolled. There could also be classes that operate with some students viewing the class online and some coming in-person and alternating on different days or weeks.
Carver said, “The faculty really has some real creativity with how they design their classes, but at the forefront in keeping the safety of the students and the faculty.”
For students who have already made their schedules for the fall will be contacted by their professors about changes to the classes that have been made. Students will also be able to contact their professors for any questions regarding classes and guidelines put forth by each professor.
For on-campus student life, housing will not be at full capacity to keep students from being in close corners and the event that space is needed for overflow.
With dining, the food court will not be allowed to fill at full capacity either. Some tables will be moved or have a sign on it to prevent students from sitting in large groups. Food workers will be following CDC guidelines for food preparation, table cleaning, and will be wearing masks at all times. Students can also have a grab-and-go option for ordering food to allow them to eat at other places on campus.
Sporting events at UTM will also have changes, there are currently discussions over the specifics for fan attendance. Carver did say more specific guidelines for sporting events will be released by July. Currently, the main agreement is seating areas will not be at full capacity.
For the library and other places that students normally gather are being looked at for when the busy and slow times are. Using that information the university can better plan how many can be inside at one time.
Carver said, as the start of the semester draws closer, students will be informed about all the new changes on campus with classes, eating and housing.
Currently, the university is not hosting large in-person gatherings, such as orientations for incoming students. Carver stated that if the current restrictions on the size of gatherings remain, then it will not be possible to host large events, such as homecoming and commencement – at least in their traditional format.
For student organizations, there will be guidelines with student meetings. Organizations will not be able to have large gatherings in small spaced rooms. The person-to-space ratio is another topic currently being discussed by those at UT-Martin to ensure clubs and organizations are still able to operate and function in a manner that protects those members. Some organizations have already planned to meet through online video apps.
Greek organizations, such as sororities and fraternities, will also be following the guidelines and will have recruitment virtually as an option.
For school and organization sponsored domestic and international trips will not occur in the fall. There will not be any travel studies in the fall and trips planned for New York or Washington D.C. will not take place. This change is not only for UT-Martin but for many colleges and universities all over the country.
In the event of a second wave and the school has to completely be online again, the university is taking steps to make sure every student has access to their classes. New wifi hot spots have been purchased. Students will be able to have internet access and materials from the library as they need it no matter where they are on campus.
By Jasmine Williams