AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin hosted a press conference on Friday over Zoom for university leaders to plan the fall semester. They will announce these plans as they evolve, with the resolution by the end of June.
In light of Gov. Greg Abbott's order to gradually and strategically reopen Texas, University of Texas President Greg Fenves said in a letter to the UT community that the university's goal remains to reopen in fall 2020.
Fenves said, "our goal is to reignite what makes UT so special, including in-person classes, to the extent that health and safety conditions allow. Meanwhile, the state of Texas is reopening slowly and, as we wrote last week, UT will continue to operate in its current mode — with limited on-campus operations."
The university leaders who attended the meeting included Fenves, Interim President-Designate Jay Hartzell, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, and Art Markman, the fall semester planning committee lead.
The university leadership team is currently coordinating six campus-wide working groups — focused on Academics, Health and Wellness, Student Life, Operations, Research, and Athletics — to develop strategies for the fall.
"These groups are gathering input and also helping us prioritize key issues, including time-sensitive decisions about housing our students safely in residence halls," Fenves said.
"One of the things we have to do is, of course, to balance the goals of trying to provide as much of an in-person experience as possible against safety concerns," said Markman.
Markman said the University is working to determine which courses will be required to be taught online due to requiring physical skills. Additionally, Markman said the University is considering measures to increase social distancing on campus, such as extending school hours.
Reagins-Lilly said she is looking forward to students returning to a more vibrant and exciting student life.
Fenves said the university is working to increase its personal COVID-19 testing capacity separate from the testing capacity of the city.
"We’re looking at adding testing capacity on campus both through UT Health Austin, and we have quite a few faculty and research labs that have the type of equipment that does the PCR tests," said Fenves.
Regarding athletics, Fenves said the university will be coordinating with other schools in the Big 12 conference on whether to have a full football season.
While the university will not be experiencing a hiring freeze, Fenves said there will be a strong limiting on hiring at this time.
The briefing covered the university’s broad goals and some of the factors being considered in the planning process as students, faculty and staff prepare for a return to campus.
In Fenves' open letter, he mentions another key priority beyond fall planning to be UT's research mission:
"We are working to reopen labs to allow faculty members to return to the critical research they have had to put on hold. As these labs resume operations, they will join the more than 60 UT Austin physical labs that are currently open and conducting both essential COVID-19 research and time-critical, non-COVID-19 research."
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