The main campus of Florida International University has been a ghost town since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to shut down and move all classes online.
That will change on August 24 when the fall semester begins. The university is reopening all four of its campuses. So are its 54,000 students comfortable coming back?
“As long as they keep the six feet in between each other, not sure if that’s gonna be like 10 kids in a class or if they switch to remote, a lot of my classes are remote now, that’s also a good alternative,” said FIU senior Lauryn Christie.
“We will make every effort to insure that we are maximizing the learning experience but also maximizing the safety to the students,” FIU provost Kenneth Furton told us in an interview conducted via Zoom.
It’s only June, but they’re already getting ready. We watched workers installing markers on stairwells, designating them as one-way lanes for pedestrian traffic. There are signs up all over campus reminding everyone that face masks must be worn and social distance must be respected. Hand sanitizer dispensers are ubiquitous, as are plexiglass shields.
This is the new FIU.
Christie told us she won’t let the pandemic ruin her last year of college.
“We can only adapt to what they tell us, so whether it’s online or it’s in person, as long as I’m getting the education and I’m actually able to I understand it, that’s all that matters to me,” Christie said.
“So the typical classroom may be at about one-third of the capacity, in some classrooms there’s only about 15% of the capacity of students, so they’ll be separated by six feet,” Furton said, explaining the impact of social distancing measures.
The law school auditorium provides a stark illustration. It went from a capacity of 283 people down to 47.
All that spacing means the school is facing a shortage of classroom space. Furton said remote learning will hopefully reduce some of the need for in-person classroom space.
What about students living on campus in the residence halls? Furton said they will be tested for coronavirus multiple times during the school year. They will also be required to use an app called Panthers Helping Panthers, which will help the university monitor everyone’s health.
“I understand the concern parents would have about their children coming back to the university, I can just assure them that we have a very carefully thought out, deliberate science-based plan and it’s a very flexible plan, so we are doing monitoring and we are able to move back into remote instruction if need be,” Furton said.
They’re trying to give students a college experience, safely, knowing something is better than nothing. FIU’s plans is tailored to its own needs but it could be a template for other universities to follow.