Universities Are Again Delaying The Start Of Spring Semester: Syracuse, Michigan State, Penn State Among The Latest

The intensifying spread of the coronavirus pandemic is forcing several universities and colleges to push back the start of their spring semesters. With Covid-19 cases and deaths reaching record levels almost every day, university leaders are hoping that postponing their on-campus openings may buy them sufficient time for the anticipated post-holiday surge of the virus to subside and for members of campus communities to begin to receive vaccinations.

This week, Syracuse University announced it will delay the beginning of its spring semester until February 8, two weeks later than originally planned.

“Starting our semester two weeks later best positions us to resume residential instruction in a manner that safeguards the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and the Central New York community,” said Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud in an email to the university community.

Syracuse is following the lead of several other major universities that have concluded, after consultation with health officials, that a postponement of on-campus activities or even a delay in starting up the semester all together is called for. 

In December, Pennsylvania State University decided to begin its spring semester online and continue with that mode of delivery until February 12. Current plans call for in-person classes to commence on Feb. 15.

“While we know this creates a number of challenges for our community, we are very concerned with the current outlook across the country and the commonwealth and believe this is the most responsible way to begin our semester. Shifting to a remote start has been a scenario we have been preparing for by building flexibility into every level of our operations in order to prioritize our students’ academic achievement,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron.

At Michigan State University, spring classes have been pushed back a week. Instead of starting their classes, students will begin the semester on Monday, Jan. 11 with a week of “reading, reviewing and reflection.” That week-long period will not involve any classes, according to a message that Michigan State President Samuel Stanley, Jr. sent to the university community on December 21. Expecting thousands of students to spend a week in “reading, reviewing and reflection” is a charming notion. We’ll see how that goes. 

Michigan State’s announcement came after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer requested that the state’s colleges and universities not resume in-person instruction until Jan. 19 in an effort to slow down the spread of the virus. 

Stanley acknowledged, “This is a unique approach, and we hope the extra time helps students best prepare for the upcoming semester with additional planning and reading. Michigan State’s classes are now scheduled to begin Jan. 19 via online instruction only, and then switch to in-person classes Jan. 25.

Throughout the fall, scores of American colleges and universities announced that they would delay opening for the spring, 2021 semester, in many cases accompanied by a cancellation of traditional spring breaks. Those plans were formulated before the recent, alarming post-Thanksgiving surge in Covid-19 cases. Now, with that surge upon us, and another one anticipated to come from Christmas-related travel, more and more institutions are deciding that postponements are in order. Will those delays, along with continuing public health precautions like sentinel testing, social distancing, and mask wearing, be adequate for a safe resumption of on-campus activities remains uncertain at best.

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