Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 20, 2020
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COURTESY OF CHRIS H. PARK

The University announced that all classes would be held remotely for the fall semester due to a spike in coronavirus cases nationwide.

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

University President Ronald J. Daniels announced in an email to the Hopkins community that all undergraduate classes will be offered online for the entire fall semester. Ongoing on-campus research will resume in accordance to Phase 1 guidelines. Additionally, the University will also reduce tuition by 10 percent, and most incoming freshmen will not be able to live on campus.

“Based on extensive consultations with our faculty experts in public health and medicine, and emerging guidance from public health officials, we have concluded that returning in person would pose unacceptable risks for you, our faculty and staff, and our neighbors in Baltimore,“ Daniels wrote.

The decision was made out of a public health concern, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is getting worse in Baltimore and across the U.S. Additionally, 30 percent of undergraduate students would be traveling from places that are hotspots for COVID-19.

The University had previously released a draft plan for the fall on June 30 that said they would offer hybrid classes for students who decided return to campus — adding that a finalized plan would be announced mid-July. However, the University did not communicate a finalized plan until August 6.

Rising senior Lily Daniels, who is an international student from Canada, stated that she will not return to campus her final year with the new online plan.

“Now that the University has announced it will be online only, I do not think I will return to campus,“ she said. “Without having in-person classes or clubs to return to, it doesn’t make sense to return to a country that is doing so very poorly with handling COVID.”

In an interview with The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President of External Relations for the Office of Communications Karen Lancaster explained that the University has communicated information as expediently as possible given the fluidity of COVID-19 trends.

“There has been many senior leader meetings and input of public health officials looking at whether we can safely make it work and welcome people back into campus,“ she said. “Information is being communicated as quickly as decisions are made.”

Incoming freshman Gabi Lesser highlighted the confusion freshmen consistently experienced with fall planning in an interview with The News-Letter.

“They had announced an entire hybrid plan to us at the end of June, and the freshmen were all so excited to get their dorm assignments, which we were supposed to come three days from now,“ Lesser said. “I found out about the update through the Class of 2024 GroupMe because a student had found an update on the JHU site.”

The University website was updated nearly an hour before an email was sent to all undergraduates.

Resources for students

Aside from a 10 percent tuition reduction, the University has allocated nearly $15 million for assistance, according to the University-wide email.

“The Office of Financial Aid has budgeted for a substantial increase in students’ aid packages in anticipation of many families’ changed circumstances.” Daniels wrote. “As we did in the spring, we will provide emergency aid to those students experiencing financial difficulties related to the switch to distance learning.”

For students who do not qualify for need-based aid but are experiencing hardships under this new plan, the University has opened a new form to apply for further assistance.

While many students have already signed leases in off-campus housing following the release of the June draft plan, the University nonetheless is urging students not to return to Baltimore.

Later that night, an email from the Student Government Association to the student body clarified that students living off-campus will also receive aid. 

In addition, the fall semester will have an opt-out satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) grading system. Students may choose to take any of their courses for a letter grade until Dec. 7, unless the instructor designates the course as S/U only. 

As all undergraduate classes will be online, the University has made investments to enhance online learning experiences. Notably, 60 new on-campus broadcasting studios have been built for faculty members to conduct their classes virtually.

Sanitation procedures, housing and dining

Undergraduate students and most Hopkins affiliates will not be allowed inside University buildings. Both the Recreation Center and the Sheridan Libraries will be closed. 

However, given that ongoing in-person research will continue, Lancaster stated that sanitation procedures will remain in place.

“Sanitation will continue and services will be provided to support the small number of people working on campus,“ she said.

Under the University’s June draft reopening plan, first-year students who come to campus would have been required to live on-campus while sophomores had the option of staying at University-sponsored hotels and apartments. However, given that all classes will be offered online, freshmen and sophomores will not be allowed to live in dorms or University-sponsored housing options this fall unless they have a demonstrated need and are approved by the Housing Office. 

Lancaster stated that housing operations would resemble University policies following this past spring break.

“It will look a bit like the spring when people are not encouraged to be in Baltimore,” she said. “If remote learning poses a particular hardship, there can be some limited campus housing.”

There are no plans as of now to provide housing in the case quarantine is necessary for those who live off-campus, according to Lancaster.

Final plans for dining operations remain similar to the draft plan, and grab-and-go options will be available for some students as written in the University’s Coronavirus Information page.

“We will offer limited opportunities for students to live in campus housing based on a demonstrated hardship associated with distance learning, “ website reads. “Those who are granted exceptions to live on campus will be required to have a meal plan.”

COVID-19 testing and screening will not be initially provided unless the student is approved to live in on-campus housing. Students staying in off-campus housing will go through the existing medical system wherein they will be screened by the University’s COVID-19 call center and may be referred to testing.

“Students who chose to live in Baltimore, but are having a completely online experience, will not receive screening tests unless they have symptoms and meet the JHCCC guidelines for testing,” the website states.

Lily Daniels noted that throughout the summer Hopkins should have been more transparent about fall plans.

“The University should have been much clearer with what their plans were. They told us they would have widespread testing, but never outlined a clear plan,“ she said. “I believe many students will still be returning to Baltimore, despite courses being online, and the University should accept some responsibility for that by helping students stay safe.”

There will be a virtual town hall held on Tuesday, August 11 discussing the move to online-only instruction. Hopkins affiliates can submit questions in advance at covidtownhall@jhu.edu.

Rudy Malcom and Katy Wilner contributed reporting to this article.

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