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President Caslen updates faculty, staff on future of university during upcoming semesters

University President Bob Caslen, with other members of the university's leadership team, addressed how the university will operate in the future regarding COVID-19 in an online town hall for faculty and staff Tuesday.

It remains unclear how COVID-19 will impact the university's operation for the fall semester. However, due to a lack of herd immunity or vaccine, Caslen said he believes the coronavirus will be present in the fall.

Caslen provided three courses of action for the fall semester.

The first option has everyone return to campus Aug. 20 for the first day of class. The second, a "transitional" option, would see an increase of face-to-face residency from June onward that will increase over time, in combination with online programs, in the hopes of near-full occupancy in the fall. The final option is a split semester, with one half online and the other half face-to-face.

Caslen said he plans to announce his decision within the next couple of weeks.

"My preference is course of action number one," Caslen said. "But in order to do that, we'd have to set the conditions for — I'm not sure we can get there."

Regardless of what option is chosen, there are many factors going into how the semester will be modeled. Caslen said a model that can find a balance between disruption, education and keeping the community safe is important.

"In whatever model we use, we must employ every measure we can to manage this challenge while proceeding with our noble mission of providing education to the standards that we have to and to the integrity that's part of it," Caslen said.

Some of the key factors are testing and reducing class sizes.

For testing, Caslen said he wants to have "risk mitigation procedures" such as testing, trace tracking and social distancing, in addition to having the quarantine facilities and a health clinic with "the capacity to deal with a large number of virus cases." Caslen said the question of how possible it would be to implement a pretest before returning to campus is being considered.

As for classes, the question of how to split them up was a primary concern, but Caslen said he hoped it could provide "some degree of social distancing." 

"How do you, for example, take a class of 20 students and split it in two?" Caslen said. "Now, it puts more of a demand on teaching not one class, but two classes. How do you work something like that?"

After Caslen's introduction, the remainder of the town hall was relegated to questions. 

Two questions regarding research were if research labs would be open during the summer and if the university would set guidelines for bringing back research subjects. The clarifications were that the viability of summer research is being discussed, and it might be done in phases. As for research with human subjects, it might depend on how "critical" the research is.

Caslen also mentioned the possibility of putting the entire campus in masks before deferring to Deborah Beck, the executive director of Student Health Services.

Beck said the university is looking into acquiring cloth masks that could be handed out to faculty, staff and possibly students.

"I would encourage everyone to start looking into that, and many of it's becoming a fashion statement, and maybe more and more people will enjoy wearing these if they're able to pick that fashion that's associated with those face coverings," Beck said.

Caslen made a point of the safety of the university, its students, faculty and staff. 

"Through all of this, our first and most important concern is the safety, well-being and health of not only our students, but of our faculty and staff," Caslen said in his closing remarks. 

For updates or further questions for the university, visit https://sc.edu/safety/coronavirus/.

Correction: The word "operate" was removed from the second paragraph for grammatical clarity. The word "possibly" was changed to "possibility" in paragraph 15. The word "faculty" was intitally misspelled as "faulty" in the last quote from Caslen.


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