USC President Bob Caslen and other senior administration officials addressed concerns about housing and the summer and fall semesters and gave coronavirus updates at an online town hall for families Monday.
There have been a total of 54 positive cases in the USC community: 48 students, four faculty and two staff members. Among the students, five cases have been on campus. Due to extenuating circumstances, there are still 96 students living on campus, and approximately 11,200 students are living off campus but within the city of Columbia.
The spread of COVID-19 has resulted in USC losing a total of $25 million. Caslen predicted the coronavirus will continue to have an impact on the university.
“COVID-19 is a fact of life, and it’ll be here for a while,” Caslen said. “It’ll be here in the fall and until we have herd immunity and a vaccine.”
Caslen and other officials discussed parents’ questions regarding housing, commencement exercises, the move-out process, online classes and mitigating the spread of the virus.
It cannot yet be verified whether all students will return to face-to-face classes in the fall. Eighty percent of students live off-campus, which makes it difficult for USC to control students’ social distancing. Dennis Pruitt, vice president for student affairs and vice provost, encouraged students to keep their options open regarding housing for the semester as a final decision as to whether students will be returning will be released before June 15.
“Don't feel pressured to sign a lease at this point in time if you don't feel compelled to do so,” Pruitt said. “I think there'll be plenty of housing spots available to you, plenty of locations, and you'll be able to arrange that.”
Commencement exercises for the class of 2020 were pushed back until the weekend of Aug. 7 and 8. However, because of the limitations put on large group gatherings, commencement might have to be pushed back again, according to Caslen.
“Each commencement event potentially has 1,600 students, not to mention family members that would be there. So we may be challenged by large gatherings at that particular point,” Caslen said.
As a result of the South Carolina stay-at-home order, it is unknown when students will be able to retrieve their belongings from on-campus residence halls. The university said students will be allowed to claim their things once the order has been lifted.
“We can only allow 5% of the students in the building at a time, so it'll be staggered returns,” Pruitt said.
In the meeting, students showed concern for the inconsistent quality of their online classes this semester and asked if the pricing for summer classes would reflect the shift to virtual learning.
“Our approach to tuition, whether it be online or in-person, is that we have certain learning objectives and course outcomes that we expect with every course that are designed to feed a curriculum and a student's studies to get a degree,” Interim provost Tayloe Harding said.
When USC students return to campus, Caslen and the executive administration plans on placing extra precautions on students to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The university plans on regularly testing students and faculty after they return to campus.
“This has been a trying time being away from friends, being away from the college experience and being online, but I know that our community will come out stronger than ever,” Student Body President Issy Rushton said.
The university will continue to post updates regarding COVID-19 at https://sc.edu/safety/coronavirus/.