The University of Wisconsin System is forging ahead with plans for a combination of in-person and online classes this fall.
Wisconsin is also seeing a spike in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19. But UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson says in-person classes are still on the agenda when the semester begins Sept. 2.
“Parents and students say 'we want our students to be able to see the professor, we want in-person.’ So we’re trying to accommodate our consumer – the parents and the students,” Thompson said during a Monday call with reporters.
Thompson said there isn’t a specific metric that would force one of the UW System’s 13 schools to close for in-person teaching.
“We can’t stick our head in the sand and say we’re not going to get worse coronavirus cases or an epidemic on a campus,” Thompson said. “But right now, we’re doing everything we possibly can to maintain safety for our students and our faculty and instructors and employees, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Thompson spoke with the press Monday to announce the system’s new Online Learning Initiative. It’s funded by a $2 million gift from an anonymous donor, and will mainly support professional development for instructors adapting courses for online delivery.
“It’s not only for our professors and instructors to give their lectures with more punch, it will also allow for the students to absorb them and learn more,” Thompson said.
The gift comes at a financially challenging time for the UW System. It already sustained a more than $40 million budget cut last fiscal year under Gov. Tony Evers’ efforts to reduce state expenses to match decreased revenue. Evers announced last week that he was directing state agencies to cut another $250 million this year. How much of that will fall to the UW System remains to be seen.
Students at each UW school will find varying amounts of online and in-person classes. At UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, more than half of the courses will be taught entirely online, according to UW System data. On the other hand, UW-Platteville and UW-Whitewater will only have about a third of classes online, and the rest will be in-person or a hybrid model.
UWM’s blueprint for fall was temporarily called into question because of a Milwaukee Health Department order that barred schools from reopening. But the health department is now allowing both K-12 and higher education schools to open for in-person classes with an approved safety plan. Health officials gave the green light to UWM’s safety plan last week.
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