In a message sent out to the entire Cane community, President Julio Frenk announced on June 15 that classes at the University of Miami will resume in-person and on campus this fall.
This decision came as coronavirus cases continue to peak in Florida. As of June 15, Florida has more than 77,000 confirmed confirmed cases, including more than 22,000 cases in Miami-Dade County.
The administration was delaying a final decision on a return as they closely monitored the progression of the coronavirus pandemic, Frenk said during a roundtable discussion with student media leaders in April.
The university is now seeking to find a “better normal” by bringing students and staff back to campus but with several changes and guidelines. Frenk shared that the university’s return plan was formulated by the work of seven multidisciplinary committees based on guidance from public health and government agencies as well as the university’s own experts.
“We are fortunate to have a world-class health system in UHealth and the very best minds in public health guiding our efforts,” Frenk wrote. Before joining UM, Frenk held a long career in public health working as a physician, Mexico’s secretary of health, an executive director at the World Health Organization, a senior fellow of public health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and most recently as the dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Until recently, Frenk led both the university and managed UHealth during the pandemic as the interim CEO.
Through the university’s four-pillar plan for a safe return, Frenk said university faculty and staff are working hard to ensure a safe and engaging campus experience. This plan entails contact tracing and COVID-19 testing for anyone displaying symptoms, deep cleaning and sanitary procedures, a reengineering of campus to promote social distancing and mandatory flu shots.
As part of the redesigning of campus, several areas will be undergoing cosmetic changes.
“We are reengineering our spaces to allow for and promote physical distancing, adding signage to help individuals practice it, and installing wellness shields at reception and point-of-sale locations,” Frenk wrote, adding that face coverings will be mandated in public spaces or areas where proper 6-feet social distancing cannot be achieved.
Some larger classes will also be held online or in a hybrid format to limit large gatherings of people.
In order to ensure the health and well-being of all Canes, Frenk asserted that everyone will have to play their part.
“One of the things that makes the University of Miami a special place to work, learn and live is our commitment to the U and to each other,” Frenk wrote. “The idea that ‘Canes Care for ‘Canes means that we believe in shared responsibility, that we value and protect what each one of us has to offer–and that begins with our wellbeing.”
Frenk released further information on the upcoming academic calendar which features several changes. Classes will resume in-person one week early on Aug. 17 and will run through Nov. 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving, the message said.
During what would have been Thanksgiving break, students will finish their last class of the semester remotely on Monday, Nov. 23 and will prepare for finals during a single reading day on Nov. 24. Final exams will be completed entirely online the following week from Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.
Frenk explained that these calendar changes were made to minimize travel and the spread of coronavirus among the UM community: “This revised academic calendar will enable students to travel home for the Thanksgiving holiday and not return to campus again until the spring semester, thereby limiting the frequency of travel and potential for virus transmission and spread.” The academic calendar for the spring is still under review, he said.
Among other changes, fall break, typically a four-day weekend in mid-October, will now be three days from Oct. 16-18.
Similar to the staggered move-out process students followed this spring, each on-campus resident will be given a specific move-in date and time for the fall. First-year and transfer students will move in Aug. 9-11 and returning students will come back Aug. 13-16.
Frenk also announced that ‘Cane Kickoff, the multi-day orientation event for incoming freshmen and transfers, will begin on Aug. 11, but he did not provide details for how this will operate with social distancing guidelines.
Upon their return to campus, all faculty, staff and students will be able to receive a “Safe Return Kit,” Frenk announced, which will include several provisional items such as a face covering, disposable gloves and a thermometer.
For those that cannot make it back to campus to attend in-person classes due to health concerns, travel restrictions or other complications, Frenk assured that the university would be flexible to make sure that all students will be able to resume.
The message stated that the university is still planning to hold commencement for spring 2020 graduates in person this December along with Fall graduates.
Despite the imminent changes to campus life, Frenk wrote that he is hopefully anticipating the university’s return this fall: “Life on campus will not look the way it did when we left, but as we return, we will rely upon the spirit, the ideas, and the creativity that drew each of us to the U. I look forward to seeing you back on campus and to re-engaging in person with the vibrant community we will continue to build—together”