Published May 21, 2020
With the spring 2020 semester just wrapped up, attention is now shifting toward the fall and what that might look like.
President Satish K. Tripathi and Provost A. Scott Weber addressed the university’s planning for fall 2020 in a new Zoom interview moderated by Bert Gambini, a news content manager in University Communications. Tripathi recently appointed Weber to lead the university’s planning efforts for the 2020-21 academic year.
“As we prepare for the 2020-21 academic year, we know we must prepare for the challenges that lie ahead,” Tripathi said, adding that questions around public health, academic continuity, research, enrollment and overall student experiences will need to be addressed.
And while everyone wants to know what the fall semester will look like, the reality is, it remains a big unknown at this point, Weber said. “I do think we can say with some certainty that it most likely will not look like fall ’19,” he said.
Weber’s planning committee currently is examining three potential scenarios: one similar to how the university operated in fall 2019, the distance learning model UB implemented for the second half of spring 2020, and a hybrid of the two.
Weber added that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way UB will teach its students in the short term, with large lectures likely not taking place in the fall semester. Instead, in-person classes, if offered, would be delivered while maintaining proper social distancing measures.
Tripathi also shared the message he has relayed to faculty and staff he has interacted with over the past few months, noting that “in this uncertain time, one thing is certain: We continue to provide our students with an exceptional education and we continue to conduct impactful research, scholarship and creative work during these challenging times.”
To learn more about the planning process and offer suggestions, go to https://www.buffalo.edu/provost/coronavirus-planning.html.
What are the estimates for additional COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths among students, faculty and staff for each of the scenarios under consideration for fall 2020? This type of baseline information should have been the starting point for the ongoing discussions the provost is leading.
UB should post these estimates on its website so the campus community can understand the information that is driving these decisions.
The scenarios for small classes (below 30 students) and large classes (the auditorium-size engineering classes) should not be viewed as one and the same. They are entirely distinct. Classes below 30 students can easily maintain social-distancing measures. This is being implemented already, very effectively, in Taiwan, South Korea and Costa Rica.
The larger classes in the sciences, on the other hand, can be run remotely, with pre-recorded lectures and, perhaps, much more "live access" to the professor than was available this past semester (real in-person office hours, tutorials in small groups of five for labs, etc).
I do believe that it is mandatory to offer at least SOME UB students an in-class experience, as, in my opinion, the overall losses that UB will suffer in the long run will be irreversible if UB remains "online only."
Sharonah Esther Fredrick
UB should try to be as close to the fall 2019 model as possible because I think many students will be very uncomfortable or simply choose not to attend UB if the all-online lecture policy is maintained. Surely a guarantee can be given that almost all classes with fewer than 20 students, say, will have lectures as usual, with decisions about larger ones dependent on the strength of the pandemic several months from now. Preserving such options is very important in case the situation in August is much better than we expect now.
They should always remember that UB has nearly 30% international students and some of them might have gone back to their home countries. They should carefully examine this situation.