A shift toward normalcy for Ohio State could be on the horizon, but expect it to be gradual.
Ohio State could begin transitioning faculty and staff back on campus in the next few weeks with a decision about fall semester made by the end of June, University President Michael V. Drake said in an interview with The Lantern Thursday.
“Given the current models, and a favorable month of May and a good and safe and smooth return in later May and June to July, by the end of June, we would be able to say, ‘Gee, here’s what our fall looks like,’ and that can be good or not so good depending on what those things look like,” Drake said.
Modifications for fall semester will likely include more online and hybrid classes and students wearing masks on campus, as well as other social distancing strategies, Drake said.
Whether business as usual will resume in the fall likely depends on what the data on COVID-19 cases and projections say in mid-May, Drake said. The current trends point toward being able to have faculty, staff and some students involved in lab research back on campus by the end of June, he said.
The university announced March 12 that classes would move online for the remainder of spring semester and later announced a cancellation of events through July 6 and a transition online for summer classes, as well.
A task force was announced April 17 to begin gauging when the right time to return to campus would be. A subgroup of the task force, led by Amy Fairchild, dean of the College of Public Health, and Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the College of Nursing, will determine the appropriate timeline based on a data-driven approach.
“We’d want to have a decision as soon as possible because if we are going to plan for a different fall, we want to plan for a different fall when everybody can do that,” Drake said.
He added that the university has been communicating with Wuhan University — Ohio State’s sister university — about how it has been transitioning students back on campus. The COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December.
“What we will do actually is watch what they do and how their experience works. So they’re actually starting to bring people onto campus now,” Drake said.
Wuhan University plans to test students for COVID-19 as they return to campus and monitor temperatures, and Drake said Ohio State is also considering these options.
Drake said in an April 9 WOSU interview that the upcoming football season might not look the same as past seasons, but he said Thursday that modifications could include, at the very least, extra hand washing and sanitizing stations or a different length of the season.
Although measures such as housing and dining refunds for students have resulted in revenue loss, Drake said mitigations such as salary freezes, university-sponsored travel cessation, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act stimulus package will balance the costs through the end of the semester.
Ohio State received more than $42.8 million from the CARES Act, half of which must be distributed as emergency student grants.
Other universities, such as Harvard University and University of Michigan, have faced criticism and calls to return the aid received from the stimulus package due to their more than $40 billion and $12 billion endowments, respectively. Ohio State’s endowment is about $5 billion, and Drake said he is proud to be able to use the stimulus money to help students.
Drake announced in a Tuesday email that the university is creating the Together As Buckeyes emergency grant program through the Office of Student Financial Aid to distribute funding from the CARES Act to eligible undergraduate, graduate and professional students.
“If this is a war, we’re on the side — we’re on our side. You know, we’re the solution. We’re the protection for the future. We’re the answers to these questions. So it’s, I would say, among the most important things that we can do,” Drake said.
Overall, Drake said the university community — from faculty and staff working from home to food service workers to staff at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State — has pivoted to contribute to the issues at hand.
“It’s been gratifying, something I’m very proud of. It’s actually what I expected because I know who we are. And it’s been great to see that happen,” Drake said.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Harvard University’s endowment was $40 million. It has since been corrected to $40 billion.