President Bob Caslen and other university officials discussed students’ grades this semester, the reasoning behind virtual December commencement and what the spring semester will look like at Wednesday’s virtual town hall.
According to Provost William Tate, students’ grades and class withdrawal rates look similar to past semesters, even with the increase in virtual learning. The deadline to withdraw from classes without receiving a WF was Wednesday.
“I received many notes from parents and students worried about grades and whether or not that students are going to be performing well across the different modalities,” Tate said. “And what this basically says to me is that right now, it appears to be happening … So, on the learning front, I feel like everything is going as planned.”
The university announced earlier this semester that December commencement will be virtual, just as August commencement was. Caslen said some students have asked why football games can be held in person but commencement cannot.
“That's a very good question, and the answer simply is that a football event is a six-hour event,” Caslen said. “It's not a two-day event with a lot of social activities before and afterwards.”
Caslen said another issue with holding commencement in person is that students would be traveling home for Thanksgiving break and then returning for commencement.
The university consulted with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and university epidemiologists, who said it would be “unwise” to hold commencement in person. Students who graduated in May 2020 and those who are graduating this December will be allowed to walk at the next in-person ceremony, Caslen said.
As students are registering for classes, they will find 36.5% of classes are available face-to-face, 24% are a hybrid of online and in-person classes and 35% are completely online, whether synchronous, asynchronous or mixed.
The remaining 4.5% of classes are Palmetto College courses. The Palmetto College is a branch of the USC system that allows students with 45 credits to finish their bachelor’s online.
“We don't anticipate changes from these modalities into the spring, like what happened in the summer," Tate said. "That was very different.”
Tate said he sees two ways these percentages would change: a significant COVID-19 outbreak on campus or a professor becoming sick and switching their class online.
“We do have a third of our faculty who have underlying conditions and are in the high risk, and I think it's important that we honor their desire to teach online because they are concerned about their status,” Caslen said.
The College of Pharmacy’s saliva test, SAFE, has a testing capacity of 1,500 per day, according to Deborah Beck, the executive director of Student Health Services. Caslen encouraged all students to get tested before leaving for Thanksgiving break.
“We want to send every single one of our students back to you — to the parents — safely and healthy,” Caslen said. “And in order to do that it's so important that we get every single one of our students tested between now and when everybody takes off for Thanksgiving. So, I'm asking all the students to actually get tested twice, once for yourself and then once for your family.”
In South Carolina, there is a steady increase recently in new COVID-19 cases per day, but these numbers are still lower than the large spikes seen in July and September. The university anticipates a “slight uptick in cases” on campus before Thanksgiving break, Beck said.
Students can access the saliva testing schedule on the College of Pharmacy’s website. Testing runs Monday through Friday and on Sunday.
Beck also encouraged students to get a flu vaccine, as the university reported its first flu case of the season on Oct. 22. Appointments can be made on the Student Health Services website.
This article was updated Nov. 5 at 1:13 p.m. with additional information about the composition of the spring semester.