2017-10-35D Provost Mark Byrnes Portrait

Mark Byrnes, Provost in Walnut Grove with Peck Hall in the background.

A Middle Tennessee State University COVID-19 task force recommends ending classes for the Fall 2020 semester at Thanksgiving as well as other social distancing protocols and reduced classroom capacity limits for the semester.

The 34-member task force formed by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and led by University Provost Mark Byrnes created recommendations to allow students, faculty and staff to return to in-person courses in some capacity and in accordance with the latest public health guidelines.

“The task force proposes a modified reopening, in which some courses occur on-ground with social distancing, some remain online, and some are delivered in a hybrid format,” Byrnes wrote in the task force’s report submitted to McPhee this week.

The task force includes a mix of faculty, staff, students and community members. Its full report can be found at www.mtsu.edu/covidtaskforce.

MTSU switched to remote learning in mid-March and will continue doing so through the summer as on-campus events remain canceled. The task force emphasizes that the university may need to quickly return to a remote environment this fall if there are case spikes or hotspots in or near the campus.

Students returning to campus in the fall will see signage related to social distancing, hand-washing, face coverings and other precautions. Many classrooms will hold only one-third to one-half as many students as in the past, while some building spaces not traditionally used for classes will be opened for instructional use.

Details on how specific courses and classroom spaces will operate will be developed at the academic department and college level.

“We are committed to maintaining educational quality while providing as safe of an academic experience as possible when our students and faculty return to our campus,” McPhee said. “The excellent work of this task force provides an invaluable road map in our journey toward doing just that.”

The task force recommends that the fall semester be shortened and that students not return to campus following the Thanksgiving break to reduce the potential for spreading the virus. All finals will be taken remotely, and the three in-person class days that will be lost will be made up by eliminating fall break and holding class on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

The task force recommends that priority for on-campus space be given to courses that require more hands-on instruction such as art studio, science labs, audio production and music performance. There are recommendations on how changes to housing, on-campus events, and student services might reduce population density on campus.

Faculty and staff who have worked remotely will begin to return to work in phases starting June 16.

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