The University of New England announced Monday it plans to welcome students back to its Biddeford and Portland campuses for the fall 2020 semester.
In April, UNE President James Herbert announced the creation of a Committee on Contingency Planning for Academic Year 2021. According to the university this team, composed of faculty, professional staff, and administrators, including physicians and public health experts, has been hard at work exploring if, how, and when the university can safely welcome students back to its campuses.
“Although there continues to be much that we do not know about the novel coronavirus, we are learning more every day, and we have now reached a point at which I feel confident in our ability to resume on-campus operations by the fall semester,” Herbert said.
The university said in a press release that hands-on learning is a distinguishing feature of its on-campus programs, as well as paramount to the education of UNE students studying the health professions.
“As Maine’s top provider of health care workers, UNE has a responsibility to bring our health professions students back to campus to continue their training, enabling them to complete their programs on time and join a workforce that desperately needs them,” Herbert said.
Reopening, however, will not come without modifications and accommodations, as well as an acknowledgment of risk. The university claims it is committed to making decisions and plans based on guidance from leading health experts at the national and state levels, and from UNE’s own highly regarded scientists and public health professionals. According to UNE, every reasonable and appropriate effort will be made to mitigate risk to the fullest extent possible in campus settings.
The university is currently developing a plan of risk mitigation that introduces several modifications to the campus experience. The committee is exploring the role that social distancing may play in both academics and student life, with the goal of taking all reasonable precautions and adhering to CDC guidelines. It is also looking carefully at protocols around cleaning and sanitation and how those efforts may be enhanced when students return
“Under the leadership of Governor Janet Mills and Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine has successfully enacted initiatives to flatten the epidemiological curve of the coronavirus outbreak," Herbert said. "These measures, in combination with Maine’s relatively low population density, have helped the state to weather this storm far better than many others across the country.”
In addition, UNE said it is making detailed preparations for any and all circumstances that may arise should students test positive for the virus. UNE said it will develop a plan that includes testing as it is available, appropriate contact tracing, designating a residential space to isolate students who may test positive and who need to remain on campus, and providing health care services to any student who becomes ill with COVID-19.
For those students who cannot immediately return to campus due to underlying health conditions, UNE said it will offer a parallel online track, enabling them to complete their coursework remotely until such time that they can safely return to campus. These same online alternatives will be available should there be students who are temporarily unable to attend in-person classes due to the virus.
Because some of UNE’s health professions programs begin classes over the summer, the university is developing a process to bring those students back to campus prior to the fall so that they may receive the necessary hands-on training needed to proceed in their programs.
“If the past several weeks have taught me anything, it is that UNE is grounded in innovation, adaptability, and concern for others,” Herbert said. “By embracing technology, welcoming the challenges of teaching and learning in an ever-changing world, and keeping our eye towards the betterment of all through the education we provide, we live up to the UNE mission. And of that, I am very proud.”