William Carey University officials announced Tuesday that the university will reopen its campuses for the fall term.
Dr. Tommy King, president, said the reopening comes with “stringent COVID-19 safety protocols in place.”
“It is our intention to return to a regular on-campus schedule in the fall as we face a new normal,” added King. “We look forward to our students returning, but their welfare is paramount in our minds and hearts. Our priority is to keep their progress toward degree completion on schedule. We will make whatever adjustments are necessary to assure that opportunity and to protect the health and safety of both students and employees.”
The university will enforce social distancing measures both inside and outside of buildings, and masks will be required in the public areas of all buildings.
Faculty and staff members, along with students and on-campus visitors, will also be required to complete an online health screening. For members of the university community, the screening is required on a daily basis, and it includes questions about possible virus symptoms and contact with people who have tested positive.
King said university staff members are continuously sanitizing all campus buildings and common areas.
“We have spent all summer – and will continue to do so – with thorough and in-depth cleaning and sanitizing of all campus facilities,” he said. “That will continue into the fall ... and as long as is necessary.”
The Hattiesburg campus will also reopen its dormitories but with single-occupancy rooms, said Valerie Bridgeforth, William Carey’s vice president for student support.
“We’ve reduced the density in our residence halls so that we’re not at a maximum number,” she said. “We’ve reduced that number, and we’re trying to make sure our students are in the safest environment we can provide for them.”
The seating capacity in the campus cafeteria will be reduced by 50 percent, and the meal options have become self-serve to reduce “touchpoints,” she added.
“We want to reduce as many touchpoints as we can, and we want students to feel comfortable in returning to William Carey,” said Bridgeforth. “This is their campus and their home.”
Dr. Garry Breland, the university’s provost, said the number of students in a classroom will be restricted “to the number that can be socially distanced at least 6 feet apart.”
Additionally, hybrid class schedules and online offerings will be used to accommodate class sizes. Large gatherings will be eliminated, and weekly chapel services – a requirement for many of the university’s undergraduates – will be delivered in a virtual environment.
“Our main strategy for keeping students safe in the classroom is to reduce the density of students when they have to share learning spaces,” he said. “Many of our classes will transition to online, and other classes will be put in a hybrid format so that they meet only part of the time in the classroom and the rest of the time online. And ... we will have maximum flexibility for all of our courses so that faculty can work with students who are, for whatever reason, unable to sit in the classroom for their instruction.”
King said university officials were aware of recent government regulation changes regarding international students and have made plans to sufficiently address those changes.
International students are required by the federal government to take most of their classes through in-person formats, but this rule was relaxed as the pandemic swept through the nation in March. However, last week, the Trump administration announced that the rule would again be enforced in the fall, and students failing to attend in-person classes must leave the country.
“We will have regular face-to-face classes for our international students in order not to jeopardize their stay in the United States,” said King.
Brandon Dillon, director of international admissions, said these offerings will allow the university’s international student population to continue their educational journeys.
“Our students will not be affected for the fall, and they will be able to continue and maintain their course of study and will not look at losing their visas,” said Brandon Dillon, William Carey’s director of international admissions. “Some of those students did travel home during the pandemic, and due to some of the travel restrictions and bans, they are unable to travel at this time. We are monitoring those on a case-to-case basis, and we’ll continue working with them and supporting them. We’ll work to get them back as soon as possible.”
King said the university will continue to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 in the communities where William Carey campuses are located, including Hattiesburg, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and reopening plans are subject to revision based on changing conditions and new local, state and federal guidelines.
He added that the university’s enrollment numbers continue to grow, and he looks forward to a successful fall term.
“We were very apprehensive about switching to totally online for the summer, but as of this morning, we had 493 more students for this summer term than we had a year ago for summer term,” said King. “For the fall, we are ahead of last year nearly 300 students. William Carey students are tough, and given tough times, they just get tougher and deal with it.”