Home Campus Students can choose to return to campus spring semester; Ohio U, union reach deal

Students can choose to return to campus spring semester; Ohio U, union reach deal

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The Board of Trustees approved renovations to Shively Dining Hall and James Hall. President Nellis announced search for VP of Advancement and President of the OU Foundation. Photo by Cole Berehns.

The Ohio University Board of Trustees confirmed a plan for spring semester Thursday that allows underclassmen students to choose whether or not to return to campus.

Ohio U Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs said the semester will begin a week later than the original academic calendar plan, commencing on Jan. 19 instead of Jan. 11. The plan removes spring break to reduce students traveling en masse.

In exchange, Ohio U will be giving students three “mini-breaks,” or days off, throughout the semester, Sayrs said. The dates for the breaks are Tuesday, Feb. 9, Wednesday, March 3, and Thursday, April 1.

All first- and second-year students will be offered the opportunity to return to campus. Students who choose to live in a dorm will be tested once a week, Sayrs said. Students living off-campus will be tested every other week.

Sayrs said the university is working with academic colleges to encourage increased in-person class curriculum, but “courses will continue in hybrid and online formats,” a slide presented during the meeting read.

“This is a much more open plan, but also with the right precautions built in,” Ohio U President Duane Nellis said.

About one-third of classes will contain an in-person element, Sayrs said. She also said the university estimates around one-third of students will choose to remain online based on internal university data.

Sayrs added classes for spring semester enrollment will clearly be listed with their offered modality when made available on Nov. 6.

Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations at Ohio University, said the spring semester plan’s effectiveness will be “largely dependent” on the actions of individual students to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“(Noncompliant behavior) really severely limits our ability to open campus more fully,” Ice said.

Ice said students will be tested when they arrive on campus spring semester to reduce the introduction of COVID-19 to the university, a strategy not seen during fall semester move-in.

Ohio U initially planned a hybrid model for the fall semester, using both in-person and virtual learning methods, The Columbus Dispatch reported. In late July, however, Ohio U announced the fall semester would begin mostly online with the exceptions of some majors, such as aviation and nursing, which require in-person testing for credentials. 

More students returned to Ohio U as part of the phase two return to campus — at least 7,200 students were permitted to return to campus for in-person education in late September. The Athens NEWS estimates around 1,500 are living in residence halls.

The Board of Trustees also approved an agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) chapter 1699 representing Ohio U culinary and custodial employees.

The board unanimously approved the agreement.

“I think union leadership recognized and took into account the unique circumstances associated with the pandemic,” Schaffer said during the meeting. 

Schaffer did not reveal many details of the agreement, but announced the union had agreed to a 0% salary increase for the current year with clauses for additional negotiations in the next two years. The union also agreed to maintain all previously negotiated healthcare provisions.

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