MC announces plans to resume in-person instruction this fall

MC announces plans to resume in-person instruction this fall

June 5, 2020 

Months after the COVID-19 outbreak forced Maryville College to move to distance learning, the school will resume in-person classes and residential living in August.

An announcement about the College’s fall 2020 semester was made by Maryville College President Dr. Tom Bogart in a memo to the campus Friday afternoon.

Citing a report compiled by the College’s COVID-19 Contingency Planning Task Force, Bogart wrote that the College had thought through various scenarios and decisions that would need to be made in each.

“Based on the findings and recommendations outlined in the report, I am confident that we can safely and responsibly resume in-person classroom instruction and residential living for the fall,” he wrote. “Reopening will require modifications to behaviors and campus operations, and many details are still being worked out, but I want you to be aware of the specifics as we have them today.”

Among the most significant changes are an earlier start and end date for the fall semester, reduced class sizes and single-occupancy rooms in some residence halls. The memo also outlines standards for behavior, which includes mask-wearing and physical distancing of at least 6 feet, and new measures taken to comply with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the state of Tennessee regarding cleaning and disinfecting, shared housing and dining.

Breaks removed from calendar

The fall semester will begin Aug. 19, one week earlier than scheduled, and will not include a Labor Day holiday or fall break. In-person instruction will end and residence halls will close before Thanksgiving, sending students home to take their final exams remotely the following week.

In making this change to the academic calendar, Maryville College follows other colleges and universities that want to prevent students from potentially being exposed to the virus over the Thanksgiving break and then returning to classrooms and residence halls without knowledge of their potential for transmission.

Accommodations being made for large classes

Recognizing that guidelines for physical distancing will not allow for wall-to-wall desks and chairs in classrooms, Bogart said large classes “will be relocated, broken up into smaller sections, and/or offered in online components,” adding that the College would continue to assist students and faculty members with “the technology and pedagogy required for quality online learning experiences.”

Changes announced for on-campus living

All of the College’s students who live in halls with community-style bathrooms will be housed one per room.

“This decision supports an effort to reduce the population in halls, thereby reducing the chances of person-to-person transmission and contamination on hard surfaces like faucets, doorknobs and stairwell railings,” Bogart explained. “Single-occupancy living also allows students to quarantine in their own rooms, should the situation warrant it.”

In the memo, Bogart stated that returning students who had previously signed up to live with roommates in suites or apartments with self-contained kitchens and bathrooms would be permitted to live in those rooms but would need to sign a liability waiver.

With the new arrangement, administrators anticipate being able to house all students seeking on-campus housing this fall – about 700 – and still be able to reserve some rooms for students who get sick and require isolation.

Next week, staff members will begin reaching out to residential students to make arrangements for move-in.

The College’s main dining room in Pearsons Hall and the smaller Isaac’s Café will reopen to feed students, but capacity will be reduced in accordance with state guidelines, Bogart wrote in the memo. Among the health and safety measures taken is the elimination of self-service at food stations.

Optimism for sports, other activities uncertain

The College is expecting varsity sport competition this academic year, “but with modifications.”

Bogart wrote in the Friday memo that the College was monitoring guidance from the USA South Athletic Conference and NCAA and expected decisions would be made and announced within a few weeks.

“Fall student-athletes should plan on returning to campus by early August,” he wrote, but other campus activities are uncertain.

“As CDC and state and local guidelines continue to advise against large gatherings and international travel, much uncertainty remains for campus events, including College-sponsored fine arts events, and international education,” he stated. “We are hopeful that these aspects of the Maryville College experience can resume quickly.”

Workgroup formed

The memo also included news that a COVID-19 Workgroup had been formed, and members are meeting twice weekly “to monitor developments related to the virus, address associated issues, and make recommendations for operations this summer and fall.” The Blount County Health Department is assisting efforts. Later this year, workgroup members will be involved in making decisions and announcements related to the spring 2021 semester.

Bogart predicted another “unprecedented” fall semester but was optimistic.

“ … the difference between the [spring 2020 and fall 2020 semesters] is that we now have more information about the COVID-19 virus and have had time to prepare the campus for safer learning and living spaces,” he said. “Without question, Maryville College will look and feel a little different, but I hope everyone is excited to get to campus, start a new school year and figure out our ‘new normal.’”

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”