U of M delays next phase a week; 35% of CBU faculty teaching from home

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 10, 2020 8:11 AM CT | Published: September 09, 2020 9:22 PM CT

The University of Memphis is adding more in-person classes, but will start Sept. 21, instead of Sept. 14 as it planned late last week.

In an email to faculty on Wednesday, Sept. 9, Provost Tom Nenon said the phased-in return of students was delayed “to make sure that community conditions are indeed stable enough to allow us to proceed.”

U of M may increase on-campus classes Sept. 14

The extra week, he said, will give the university time to make sure logistics, including cleaning protocols, are in place.

By late Wednesday, it was unable to say how many classes would meet or how many additional students it was planning to have on campus.

“I was told we are just figuring the classes out,” said spokesman Chuck Gallina.

Nenon was unavailable for comment.

The university has an enrollment of more than 22,000 students. President M. David Rudd has said several times it is operating at 30-40% density.

As of Sept. 2, the U of M has reported having 132 COVID-19 cases since April, including 42 active cases. Of those, 16 are on campus, according to its COVID-19 reporting site.

It has 1,830 students living in on-campus dorms. It has reserved a bank of dorm rooms for quarantining. Of the 85 rooms, 18 were occupied.

Freshman Daniel Franceschini has been notified that several of his classes will remain online.

University of Memphis workers knock safety efforts on campus

“A few are looking into hybrid returns or optional return,” he said, noting that students who are not comfortable “can join the Zoom and stay home.”

Franceschini likes the option for more students to be on campus, particularly for higher-level classes, “because I think it is much easier to learn in person. It gives everyone the option to do what they want, and I feel like it is a step in the right direction.”

In accounting, one professor said that a number of faculty were using lectures from a textbook publishing house, which also grades the tests and homework.

Another, John Malloy, said he was on the second floor of the Fogelman School of Business building last week and saw only one other faculty member on the floor.

“There were no secretaries. Everyone is working from home,” he said.

As it brings more students back to campus, it will need more staff on-site to support students and faculty. The administration’s current recommendation is up to 50% of staff will return to campus in a rotating cycle.

CBU managing hybrid set-up

Christian Brothers University, which has been in session more than three weeks, is randomly testing students and faculty. It has had 11 cases, including eight the first week of school, according to Leslie Graff, spokeswoman.

“Seven were commuter students who never came to campus. We’re finding that a lot of our students are commuting,” she said. “They are going to their own health care providers and reporting to us that they have a positive test.

“What that lets us do is make sure that they have all the accommodations.”

CBU broadcasts the number of positive tests on its website and sends students a weekly report.

Many universities are offering versions of the COVID-19 dashboard, updating them at least weekly.

CBU is considering whether it will report more frequently, Graff said.

“To have that sense of transparency — of what is happening around you — is potentially helping people feel more safe. We all fear the unknown,” she said. “And so, when you don’t know, you may think, Oh, my God, we have hundreds of cases all around us. And that is just not the case.”

CBU is offering 80% of its classes either remotely or through a hybrid of in-person/online learning. It has no official plan to have more in-person classes, but if Shelby County case trends continue to make progress, individual faculty will be allowed to teach a larger portion of their courses in the classroom, Graff said, going from a 50-50 split to perhaps 70-30.

But courses would still have to be taught entirely online, too, for all the students who did not come to campus this fall or are quarantined. 

“Our faculty are prepared to be told, ‘student X has received a positive diagnosis or student X came in close contact and is quarantining,' so you need to be prepared to teach the students fully remotely for an extended time period,” Graff said.

“I walked by a room the other day,” she said. “You’ve got to imagine this big room with four or five students and a computer set up with a screen. You could see a couple of students were coming in remotely. The faculty member was teaching. They have to stay, of course, distant from the students in the room and managing all the things and trying to teach.”

CBU freshmen move in with usual fears, plus pandemic

CBU has contracted with the U of M for access to quarantine space in its dorms. So far, it has not had to use any.

Sara Clark dropped her daughter off at CBU this summer, understanding that four of her classes would meet in person.

All six of her courses, including Speech I, ended up being online, which means her daughter, Emma Clark, has little interaction with others on campus, her mother said, except lunch in the socially distanced cafeteria and texts she receives from sororities recruiting for members.

“She just goes to class a couple times during the semester because she has to take a math test or something else in person. Everything else is online,” Sara Clark said.

Because campus events are remote or require special permission to meet in person, Emma Clark says there hasn’t been anything since Welcome Week for freshmen to do in person.

“It’s not the college experience I had hoped for, but I understand why, especially since there have been positive tests on campus,” she said. “But it’s just kind of sad.”

Before the semester started, 12% of CBU faculty requested remote teaching for either their own health or that of someone in their home. When CBU completed its social-distance parameters for the campus, what it calls “de-densification,” 35% had to work remotely to make the spacing work.

The campus has 187 faculty members.

The calculations were going on right up to the start of school, Graff said.

“It’s been a complicated puzzle to put together, but we felt like it was important to do so as part of our commitment to our community’s well-being.”


Tom Nenon Chuck Gallina University of Memphis Christian Brothers University Leslie Graff Daniel Franceschini
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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