Finding a way to celebrate

Messenger photo by John Halley

It’s been a tradition ever since there has been a gateway. Ohio University graduates had always gathered at the Class Gateway for photos before and after commencement exercises to mark their time as a student in Athens. Because of the university campus shutdown, there will be no graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020. These graduates found an opportunity to don their caps and gowns for the time-honored photograph in front of the OU institution.

Yet again, a Friday news release and letter from Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis rocked the community, finally releasing information of in-person instruction criteria for the fall semester as concerns have been raised about the returning student population beginning a COVID-19 superspreader event.

Fall classes are to begin Aug. 24, and undergraduate students were told Friday, July 31 that they would be notified no later than Aug. 4 about whether their academic program will be permitted to return to the Athens campus, and graduate students will be notified similarly by Aug. 7. The programs selected will include any classes that require in-person experiences for accreditation purposes or require essential equipment or facilities only available on-campus, such as laboratories.

All other students will begin fall classes remotely on Aug. 24, continuing through Sept. 27 as part of the first phase.

Any student who returns to campus will be required to sign the “OHIO Pledge,” which states that the individual promises to conduct themselves in a way that “promotes” health and safety of others; to wear face masks in all public places in accordance with the OU policy; to report exposure to, to positive for, and developing symptoms of COVID-19; to participate in contract tracing if positively diagnosed; and to “treat my peers, faculty, and staff with the respect every human being deserves and not promote, participate in, or allow my own bias to impede the access and opportunity of others in my community.”

However, what Phase II will look like is still fluid, Nellis’ letter stated.

“We will continue to monitor conditions and seek the advice of public health officials to inform a second phase, beginning Sept. 28,” the president wrote. “Leveraging what we learn during Phase I, we will increase face-to-face course offerings in Phase II as much as possible while working hard to ensure the safety of our campus and community.”

Regional campuses will follow a different plan — as there is no on-campus housing for these sites, the semester will begin with reduced density by offering face-to-face instruction for clinical, practica or lab-based classes only. As such, all other classes will be offered through a virtual portal. In-person classes will be “small, ensure social distancing, and face coverings will be required.”

Nellis noted that there could be options for fully online semesters.

“We have formed a Core Advising Team to help students understand their options and any impacts if they wish to make course changes to accommodate an all-online option,” he wrote. “To our students, I know that our decision to move to a phased return to campus in Athens and to expand our hybrid approach on our regional campuses will have significant impacts on your own planning. We also recognize that you may be facing a variety of additional hardships in the midst of this public health crisis.”

The Core Advising Team is available at or 740-566-0340 from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, July 31 through Saturday, Aug. 1, with regular hours beginning Monday, Aug. 3 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Nellis wrote that the OHIO CARES Relief Fund will be “modified to include eligible students” until there are no longer funds available, with OU committing an additional $5 million to assist undergraduates who “have demonstrated financial need during these unexpected transitions.” Who might be eligible has not been announced, but “information about eligibility for these funds is forthcoming,” the release read, continuing, “students eligible to request funding will be notified when the application becomes available.”

In regards to academic scheduling, Labor and Veterans Days will still be observed, but Fall Break has been eliminated.

Most students will leave campus for the semester by Nov. 20, with only students in regional clinicals, practica and lab-based classes, those from the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and a “limited number of classes” as exceptions.

In response to concerns about how this would affect the fees for students who will be living on-campus, the university stated that those “approved for Phase I will receive an updated fall semester housing assignment, with charge adjustments as appropriate,” continuing by noting that the dining plans will “remain as currently selected.”

Anyone not returning will be automatically refunded. The payment due date has also been extended a month to Sept. 21.

It appears some students may be eligible down the line to return for the second phase, and will receive revised housing and dining charges according to Friday’s release.

Campus Life

Recreation plans are in the works for the Athens campus, with staff working to reopen facilities and restart programs with physical distancing and safety measures in place. However, student organizations, including greek life, will “receive support to move operations virtually so students can participate from any location.”

Baker Student Center and the libraries will reopen with “limited” hours for on-campus study and research space.

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