U of M will run remotely for month, reassess

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 30, 2020 11:01 PM CT | Published: July 30, 2020 3:20 PM CT

The University of Memphis will start fall classes Aug. 17 with predominantly remote learning.

In early September, university leaders will reassess the situation and decide if it is safe enough to open things up more.

“The latest available data indicates unacceptable risk in Shelby County and Memphis for an immediate transition to a dense campus environment,” president M. David Rudd said in email to the university community Thursday afternoon, July 30.

“Our ability to manage and effectively respond to COVID-19 risks are complicated by the current lack of widely available and reliable access to tests and timely test results,” he said, adding that leaders also considered issues that staff, parents and students raised about how the campus would reopen.

Classes and labs “simply not possible to conduct virtually” will meet in person, Rudd said.

They include some laboratories, clinical training, arts/music and engineering courses and will be conducted in small numbers and follow protocols outlined on the university’s return to campus plan.

The university will allow students to return to the dorms during the remote-learning period, and it will offer several restricted dining options.

“Many of our students need to be housed in campus facilities in order to have full access to the essential infrastructure necessary for their education, even in virtual/remote context,” Rudd said.

He also noted that the campus has been open since mid-spring, when the vast majority of students were sent home.

“We are operating well and safely with a density of approximately 35%-40%, including students in our housing facilities,” Rudd said.

Hundreds of students with no other options have been in the dorms since the pandemic hit.

“We will work to stagger and rotate staffing to manage overall campus density within this range during the first phase. We anticipated this as a possible scenario, and we are well prepared.”

The university, the largest campus in town by far, is the last to report its reopening plan.

In mid-July, Rhodes College said the conditions did not make it possible to reopen for in-person classes this fall. Christian Brothers University plans for students to be on campus in August for a hybrid of in-person and online learning. LeMoyne-Owen is offering classes remotely at least through Labor Day and then will reassess.

The U of M’s situation is complicated by the density of large campuses, the number of large, lecture-format classes it has and to some extent, the age of its faculty.

John Malloy, 81, a professor in the school of accountancy, has told his department head he will not teach a live class this fall, noting that he has one class with 22 students and no way to social distance.

“I think the first month is wise because we have a peak in the coronavirus, and it would be very unwise to put these people together,” he said.

Small, private schools have more latitude, he said.

“But with state schools like Memphis, most students work if they can find a job. And they come from all different areas, every day. It just is almost impossible to control the virus that way.”

The university moved its start day up a week and shortened breaks to get at much schooling in before the flu season begins this fall and potentially complicates the pandemic. It plans to end the fall term before Thanksgiving.

Experts say remote learning is a difficult decision to make because it wipes out revenue from profit centers on campus, including food service and residence halls that account for 25% to 30% of campus revenue.

“If a school decides to not have students back on campus, they will lose the equivalent of that revenue on a monthly basis,” said Clinton Gardner, president of the University of the Potomac in Washington, D.C.

With social distancing, he said, it will also be difficult to have two students in a dorm room, which cuts deeper into housing revenue.

The U of M, he says, will have to prorate housing for students who signed up to live on campus but don’t move in because classes are online.

“They can’t charge them for a non-service or something they don’t receive.”

The university did not immediately respond to questions about dorm-room occupancy rates or if tuition will be discounted for the time classes are offered remotely.

“My guess is they are keeping things pretty close to the vest,” Gardner said. “Many of these schools are still trying to sort out their strategy.”

Rhodes, which is offering the full fall term remotely, reduced tuition 9%.

Colleges and universities will be under enormous budget pressure this year. If they have to refund a portion of tuition because it goes online longer than they expect, that is more lost revenue, Gardner said.

“There may be students who decide to transfer to other institutions. There may be some that decide to take a year off. You just don’t know,” he said. “If they are losing students, that is an additional loss in revenue, and it will really compound the challenges they are dealing with in managing budgets.”

With the announcement Thursday, Daniel Franceschini, an incoming U of M freshman, expects to now live off campus or at home.

“I’m definitely going to assess living on campus,” he said. “I might see about living at home and then getting an apartment later if we decide to go back on campus.”

He and his family have been waiting for the university to announce its plans to make their decisions about housing.

“I have not signed for the housing yet, especially because my roommate is considering a gap year,” he said. “If all my classes are online, I will probably live at home. There is no need to pay for a room I am not going to use.”

Earlier this summer, the U of M announced its campus schools for elementary and middle-school children will begin the fall semesters online. The laboratory preschool affiliated with the university is set to reopen Aug. 10 for half days. Students will attend from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. or from 1 to 5 p.m., five days per week.

Students and staff will receive more details in the next few weeks about “this first phase” of the return to campus, Rudd said.

“This is a moment in our history that will be defined by our patience, flexibility and caring for one another. I continue to be impressed by the compassion, kindness and caring of our community,” he said.

“We will emerge from this challenge stronger as a campus, a community and a city.”

Meaningful news delivered to you each week

Coverage of the key happenings in our city including city hall, education, and more.

Manage Your Email Subscriptions


University of Memphis John Malloy Daniel Franceschini M. David Rudd Clinton Gardner
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 healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


Reading comments and joining the conversation are some of the many benefits of subscribing. Join the conversation by clicking the View Comments button below. Not a subscriber? Click here. 

Our commenting policy can be viewed here

Meaningful news delivered to you each week

Coverage of the key happenings in our city including city hall, education, and more.

Manage Your Email Subscriptions