With return to campus just weeks away, 4 Midwest universities share reopening plans

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Thursday, July 9, 2020

CHICAGO (WLS) -- College campuses will be opening for the fall semester in just weeks, but many questions remain over what the campus experience will be like in the age of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the leaders of four of the region's biggest schools got together to share their plans.

Sponsored by Politico, the heads of Loyola, Michigan State, Wisconsin and the U of I agreed on one thing: the 2020-21 academic year will be different.

"We don't know how many will show up," said University of Wisconsin-Madison President Rebecca Blank.

Classes will be in a hybrid model of in-person and online classes to varying degrees. Lecture seating will be spaced out, dorms will be single occupancy and innovation in teaching will be prized.

"There are some things that don't work online," Blank said.

She spoke of the "need to create opportunities for those small conversations that lead to learning."

"The residential component is critical," said University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones. "In-person experiences are important."

All the schools are mounting personal responsibility campaigns as part of the student code of conduct to elicit compliance with CDC-backed coronavirus-fighting strategies: social distancing, hand-washing, and above all the wearing of masks.

"Inclusive decision-making means pushing personal responsibility, good practices make a difference but buy-in is key," said Michigan State University President Samuel Stanley.

When the inevitable infections happen, each school is promising a robust testing and contact tracing regimen.

They said enrollments are tracking traditional patterns, but what college will look like this fall is truly fluid.

"Schools have lost tens of millions of dollars," said Loyola University President Jo Ann Rooney.

Beyond the money, these principals say they want students on campus to help them build on the momentum of their educations, and they will make changes on the fly to make that happen.