Plan to Reopen Florida's Public Universities Has Protections for Students, Faculty Says Chancellor

May 29, 2020

Students at Florida’s 12 public universities could be returning to campus this fall, according to a new plan approved by the Florida Board of Governors. The universities will use the blueprint to develop individual reopening plans following shutdowns due to the coronavirus.

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On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross were joined by Marshall Criser, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, and Politico reporter Andrew Atterbury.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

TOM HUDSON: Will Florida universities hold on-campus classes in the fall? 

MARSHALL CRISER: Our expectation is that we will do that. Our Board of Governors yesterday approved a blueprint that we have developed that will guide the 12 universities in planning for that process. But I would also add that one of our goals in this is to best understand where our students want to receive their education and to have the flexibility so that if someone chooses to come back to campus, we have a plan for them. But also, if an individual chooses to continue online, we have the flexibility to cover that as well. 

HUDSON: Will universities then be required to offer the same class, both online as well as in-person? 

CRISER: Most of our universities today already offer a mix of both online education as well as face-to-face education in most of their classes. And even in a case where a particular university might not have an online course, you know, one of the nice things about our system is that students can also take that course from another university. So, my belief is somewhere in the system we're going to have that flexibility to be able to serve that student.

HUDSON: Will universities have the ability to cancel on-campus classes if they feel that is in the public health interest of staff, faculty, and students?

CRISER: What we're going do is work very closely with the Department of Health. In fact, we have been doing that in developing the blueprint, and we intend to continue doing it, so that we have a process for screening and testing and identifying where we may have an instance of the virus. And we will be prepared to react to that. But we also anticipate having the ability to respond when an individual has either contracted the virus or has been potentially exposed to it. But we'll have plans to keep them safe as well as to be able to keep our other students, as well as our faculty and staff safe. 

MELISSA ROSS: Faculty members have been pleading that their voices be heard in this whole conversation. What are their concerns here? 

ANDREW ATTERBURY: Yesterday, some faculty with the United Faculty of Florida spoke at the Board of Governors meeting. And it seems like, for the most part, they agree with the blueprint that they set out, they like the testing policies. But just like some of the things that came up, the fact that every school does have the decision to make their own plan. It leaves them wanting more input and also leaves them with some questions. And they want to make sure that they get everything they want in reopening.  

ROSS: Faculty have called for more federal aid to colleges as well, as you've reported, at the same time, there are budget cuts and higher covered expenses. Enrollment could be affected by this pandemic. What are some of the financial strains and pressures that could be changing the campus experience over time?

ATTERBURY: In universities, they're planning for different scenarios, this point where there is a 10 percent enrollment loss, up to even more than that. And so far, though, everyone's been too hesitant to forecast what their enrollment for the fall might look like. But there was some positive news over the summer where almost all the ones I talked to said their summer school enrollment has actually improved. 

Now, of course, it's all online, and it could be students just trying to knock out some courses before the fall. But there is at least some good news there for enrollment. That, I think, is the biggest question right now is how is enrollment going to look in the fall? And I think that's why you hear the governor say that they want to have some flexibility here because they want to give schools an ability to make the best plan to help their students. The biggest focus I heard yesterday was on, yes, we want to offer in-person classes when we can. The biggest deal is we also want to have those same courses available online, on distance learning, for students who aren’t comfortable. That way, everybody can still enroll, but they can have a different way of doing it.

ROSS: Andrew, what do you say to someone sending their kid off to a college dorm in all of this? 

ATTERBURY: That's a big issue with early plans. Early plans are taking shape now, talking about single-person dorms, not rooming with someone else, and spreading everyone out the best they can. But of course, when you get thousands of people on one campus, that's going to be one of the biggest issues. And that's why for the students, I hear one of the biggest issues is how do you work extracurriculars? How do you play volleyball? How do you go outside and do sports and things like that?