USC will resume in-person classes in the fall and pair almost every class with online instruction, President Carol Folt announced in a communitywide email Tuesday. The fall semester will also begin Aug. 17, one week earlier than the original start date, and end with finals before Thanksgiving, the email read.
“I know many of you have been waiting to hear about our plans for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year,” Folt wrote. “We all are eager to return to campus life this fall and committed to making this decision with a great deal of care and planning.”
The protocols outlined in the announcement align with college reopening guidelines released last month by the American College Health Association and include modifications in residence and dining halls to reduce density and adhere to strict sanitation guidelines. Undergraduate in-person instruction will be supplemented with online classes for students unable to attend in the fall.
With the shift of the semester to an earlier start date, there will be no fall break this semester. The elimination of the recess will also minimize the risks commensurate with the onset of the flu season, the email read. In addition, Welcome Week activities for undergraduates will be held online for all students and begin Aug. 10, while graduate and professional students will receive school-specific notifications.
The University will release more information regarding housing and the move-in process at a later date, Folt wrote. Accommodations will be made for students, faculty and staff at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, and the University will continue monitoring the pandemic’s effects to gauge the necessity of further changes to the format of fall semester classes. USC is also working with various schools and its Center for Excellence in Teaching to redesign learning, including reconfiguring about 250 classrooms for simultaneous in-person and online instruction and bringing in additional instructional designers.
Classes may utilize seating assignments to enable more effective contact tracing and self-isolation recommendations for students within the immediate area of an infected classmate. To facilitate the resumption of in-person activities, the University will enact a set of requirements, including social distancing, wearing masks, agreeing in writing to comply with health and safety protocols and completing an online training course on public health guidelines, for students, faculty and staff who wish to return to campus.
Folt’s letter also mentioned building upon measures for practices and competitions that are currently being developed by NCAA and the Pac-12 Conference ahead of the football season. As of now, the NCAA has allowed voluntary in-person workouts for all sports starting June 15 although USC Athletics has not made any decisions yet. The policy for hosting large events, such as concerts and performances, has not been determined, according to the email, but will follow University and public health guidelines.
The letter does not outline specific accommodations or plans regarding international students or University-owned housing.
Folt wrote that more details on the fall semester will be announced in the near future on an upcoming new website called Trojans Return. Project Restart, an initiative comprising various community members and health officials and spearheaded by Provost Charles Zukoski launched in March to guide the safe return to campus reopening, will continue following its internal Health Policy leadership team’s and the Los Angeles County Department of Health’s safety guidelines when implementing decisions.
In the letter, Folt also acknowledged the malapropos timing regarding the announcement about the status of in-person classes amid national unrest surrounding the police killing of George Floyd but affirmed the importance of communicating the University’s plans to the community.
“I write to you today with the full understanding that we stand astride two of the most challenging situations in the history of our nation: the ongoing tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic and our recent horror over the senseless killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer,” Folt wrote.
Folt concluded the letter by thanking students, staff and faculty for their patience regarding the release of fall semester details.
“Even in this difficult situation, we are committed to building educational experiences that are engaging and of exceptional quality,” Folt wrote. “A successful and safe academic year will only be possible if each of us looks out for the health of our fellow Trojans and community neighbors and partners.”