Classes to remain online in the week following spring break amid concerns of coronavirus

(Arielle Chen | Daily Trojan)

USC will extend online classes to one week after spring break as concern continues to grow regarding the spread of coronavirus, Provost Charles Zukoski announced Tuesday in an email to the USC community. The University has also canceled or postponed nearly all USC-sponsored events both on and off campus from Wednesday until March 29.

“We believe the risk to our students, faculty, and staff remains low, but it is our responsibility to you and our greater community to be proactive in our efforts to encourage social distancing as a means of preventing the spread of illness,” Zukoski wrote in the email. “At the same time, we are committed to continuing the academic excellence and vital work of the university.”

Beginning Wednesday, nearly all classes are transitioning online for a three-day trial period to evaluate the procedures the University has in place as USC aims to ensure a smooth transition. Adjustments will be made to the platform operations once the trial run has been evaluated over spring break. 

Residence halls, dining halls, clinics, libraries and recreational facilities will remain open throughout the duration of the online period and adhere to their usual spring break schedules, according to the email.

While athletic events on campus will continue as scheduled in the 18-day period, only the athletes’ families, media and recruits may attend. The matches will be streamed online for fans to view remotely. A similar format has been implemented for academic performances and recitals.

“This is a challenging time for all universities and organizations that bring together a large, highly mobile population, and we appreciate your patience and support as we navigate this uncharted territory,” the email read. “We ask for your patience and collaboration as we work through difficult issues related to the continuity of all of our academic programs.”

Currently there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus at USC. The University is continuing to monitor local and international developments. Los Angeles County reported its first case of community spread Monday after declaring a public health emergency last week. As of Tuesday, L.A. County has 20 reported cases. 

The University has continued to stress that students refrain from domestic and international travel. All nonessential University-related travel for students, faculty and staff has been suspended until March 29.

USC has encouraged students to refrain from returning to campus following spring break unless necessary. However, the shift to online will not include all classes, Zukoski told the Daily Trojan in a statement. Nonlecture classes like lab and performance-based classes will still be held in person. The University will continue to evaluate over spring break how it will manage such classes.

“We are moving as many classes as possible online,” Zukoski wrote in the statement. “We understand that not all courses can be taught remotely and therefore students should contact their instructors and remain flexible in this time of rapidly changing circumstances.”

Departments will decide the future format of nonlecture courses on a case-by-case basis. Chemistry lab coordinator Catherine Skibo sent an email to general chemistry students Tuesday evening stating that she had not received information about the online class transition beyond the provost’s email sent to the USC community.

“As far as I know, USC is not changing anything for this week; they’re just extending online lectures for the week after spring break,” the email read. “We are asking for clarification if that applies to labs the week after spring break as well.”

Adrian Guerrero, a sophomore majoring in chemistry, said some of his STEM professors have been taking the situation lightly, continuing to offer classes in person. 

“[A professor] basically said that since we are STEM majors, we should be able to analyze the minuscule threat of coronavirus and that we should help inform our non-STEM major acquaintances and colleagues,” Guerrero said. “This was several days ago, which also might be why the reaction was a little bit different.”

Faculty and students are still navigating the implications of remote classes. Arthur Auerbach, an associate professor of political science, said professors received the email informing them about the changes at the same time as the students and did not have any prior knowledge regarding the announcement.

“There’s always a point in time when the administration has to lead and I think this is probably one of them,” Auerbach said. “I imagine that there was some level of consultation with some percentage of the faculty, just wasn’t myself or others that I know within our department.”

Karen Mendoza, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said she had a professor refuse to conduct class through Zoom and instead cancel it following the initial announcement; however, she has not yet heard anything since USC announced the extension. 

“[Online classes are] going to be a lot of teaching yourself stuff because I have one professor who was like, ‘I’m not going to be doing Zoom meetings and I’m not going to record myself because in class you guys look bored — I can’t imagine how bored you’ll be online,’” Mendoza said. 

This online shift follows more than 15 other universities’ transitions to digital platforms in the last week. Stanford University and the University of Washington were the first to do so Friday following an increase in cases in Santa Clara County and Seattle. All universities within the University of California system except UC Merced have suspended classes for the remainder of the quarter or will begin implementing such policies following spring break.

Lauren Mattice, Shaylee Navarro, Kate Sequeira and Sarah Yaacoub contributed to this report.

This report was updated March 11 at 12:30 a.m. with interviews from faculty and students.