UW-Madison suspended face-to-face instruction Wednesday, starting March 23 — the date classes would typically resume after spring break — in an attempt to lessen COVID-19 risks.
Alternate delivery of classes will continue online until April 10, when a decision of whether or not to reinstate in-person instruction will be announced.
“I think the biggest question is … how safe is it to bring back gatherings of people?” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement. “We will be very much guided by the CDC at the national level and the local county health people at the local level.”
Students living in university residence halls have been advised to take all essential belongings with them when they leave for spring break. The university recommended they return to their permanent addresses, complete their coursework remotely and not return to campus until at least April 10.
Keeping the residence halls at 10 percent capacity versus 100 percent capacity reduces the risk of a spread of COVID-19 immensely from a disease control standpoint, according to Blank.
This raised questions for out-of-state and international students, like UW-Madison freshman Keaton Chan from Hong Kong.
“I can’t go back home. If I go and come back, they would probably quarantine me for a while — or I might not be able to come back at all,” Chan said.
Although students living in dorms were recommended to return to their permanent addresses, the university residence halls will remain open for students who are unable to leave campus — like Chan and many other international students.
The campus-wide vacation has broader implications for students' college experiences on a social, academic and financial level.
“I’m expecting to just stay in and not have a lot of social interaction,” Chan said. “Pretty sad times.”
Joan Schmit, a UW-Madison School of Business professor, echoed concerns about the complications international students might face.
“So someone from Malaysia goes home — do they pay to come back again?” Schmit asked. “I fully expect that we will stay [online] this semester; if a student went home — in or out of the country — and can’t come back for classes on April 10, I, as the instructor, still make that virtual classroom available to them.”
Schmit advised students to let instructors and administrators know ways they can help make this experience as painless as possible.
“Students worry about causing trouble or bothering people — don’t,” Schmit said. “We can at least try to help.”
Many students leaving the residence halls face financial concerns about the change in living conditions, monetarily and otherwise.
“We are working out the financial implications of this,” Blank said. “I would expect that there is going to be some compensation for the students that are not in the residence hall for the full year.”
In an email sent out to the entire UW-Madison community, Blank called attention to the racial tensions the virus has been causing, stating that racist behaviors or stereotyping “in or outside of the classroom are not acceptable at UW-Madison.”
“It’s cool how they mentioned, in an official email, the racism,” Chan said. “I thought they wouldn’t really acknowledge that, especially here because it’s so subtle. When I read that part I was just like happy. Maybe there is hope.”
Campus will remain open while faculty and staff continue their regular work schedules, and the university will continue its day to day operations with some exceptions regarding travel and events.
All university sponsored travel is suspended until April 10, except sports-related trips.
“We are working through a number of things on athletic events,” Blank said. “Our athletics teams will be guided by any guidance by the NCAA. That guidance does not yet exist but we will follow it once it does come out.”
Six other UW System campuses temporarily canceled in-person instruction, including UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay, UW-Superior, UW-La Crosse, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Stout, according to university press releases.
UW-River Falls plans to announce its final decision Thursday on whether to move to alternative methods of instruction, while UW-Platteville will make a decision by March 17.
UW-Milwaukee, UW-Superior and UW-La Crosse are extending their respective spring breaks by a week.
Reporting was contributed by Aylin Merve Arikan, Dana Brandt and Morgan Lock.