With the fall semester scheduled to start two weeks early, many students are experiencing sudden changes in their summer plans, which may include internships, travel plans and move-in dates. Although NAU announced this shift to combat the COVID-19 pandemic June 4, the university community is still adjusting.
Previous reporting by The Lumberjack outlined President Cheng’s plan to start the semester Aug. 12 and finish before Thanksgiving. One component of this proposal allows students to attend classes in-person, online or some combination thereof through the NAUFlex program.
According to Cheng’s email, the fall semester will also utilize physical distancing, safety trainings and other techniques to prioritize the community’s well-being. While these strategies are different from normal operations, some students said in-person classes pose risks.
Over an email interview, junior Gabi White said NAU is rushing to return to normal although COVID-19 remains a serious threat. The Arizona Republic reported Friday that 1,654 new cases of the virus were confirmed around the state — the most positive tests recorded in a single day statewide.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what the university has done,” White said. “With the past spring semester, moving all classes online was a good idea, but I’m not sure going back to in-person classes is following that same idea.”
Although many students agree that face-to-face classes provide a social and learning environment that cannot be replicated online, White explained that this preference should not always be prioritized.
“With cases still rising, it seems rushed and rash to jump back into big lectures and gatherings of many people,” White said. “I think everyone, government included, is being too impatient and eager to ‘get back to normal’ when no solution has yet been found.”
Since NAU has not announced details regarding a plan to put safety measures in place, many aspects of student life remain up in the air, such as class sizes. As of now, the University is planning to limit capacity in classrooms.
Notre Dame was one of the first major universities to announce the transition back to in-person coursework this fall, as reported by The New York Times. Similar to NAU, the Catholic university plans to start the semester a few weeks early — on Aug. 10 — and avoid a traditional fall break.
Even though Notre Dame finalized this decision over two weeks earlier than NAU, the COVID-19 pandemic also changed during that period. According to the World Health Organization, an additional 390,995 cases were confirmed throughout the United States between May 18 and June 4 — the dates of each universities' announcements. However, students in Flagstaff also had less time to prepare for the upcoming semester than their counterparts at Notre Dame.
Junior Andrew Foss said academic institutions around the country were placed in a difficult position because of the pandemic, regardless of their adjustments or schedules.
“I think it’s ultimately just a difficult situation for everyone involved, and no matter what decision was made about the start date, there would have been negatives that came with it,” Foss said.
While he pursues a double-major in environmental science and chemistry, Foss explained that some of his classes rely on face-to-face instruction. In particular, certain labs use equipment, technology and other materials that are generally more accessible on campus.
“Lectures tend to translate fairly well to an online platform, but you fundamentally can’t replicate a lab experience online,” Foss said. “Especially for chemistry labs, the idea is to gain experience with different instruments and techniques — as well as an understanding of how to work in a lab — which does not translate well to a video format.”
Along with the semester’s early start, another aspect of student life that changed was move-in dates. White said her lease does not start until Aug. 21, or nine days after the school year begins, which could force her to find a temporary living situation. Furthermore, while many students are working to navigate this problem, White added that contacting off-campus housing complexes is increasingly difficult.
Landmark Properties, an integrated real estate firm that develops and manages off-campus housing complexes around the country, recently declared an early move-in date for students at The Standard. According to the Arizona Daily Sun, The Standard holds 252 apartments and 763 bedrooms, many of which house local students.
“We’re excited to have our new residents move in even earlier than originally anticipated,” a Landmark Properties spokesperson stated. “To accommodate our residents who are NAU students, we have adjusted our 2020 move-in date to Aug. 11, nearly two weeks ahead of our initial schedule.”
This new date will allow tenants to move in just before the fall semester begins, and the spokesperson also stated that Landmark Properties will continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic both locally and nationally.
Rather than signing leases, other students could choose to stay home and participate in the NAUFlex program — White said this option needs more publicity. If students hear about online opportunities, some are likely to utilize them, she added.
Similarly, Foss said the university would benefit from social distancing, a result of having fewer students on campus during specific times. Until the fall semester, however, enrollment figures will be challenging to estimate.
“I think NAUFlex will see some use, though it’s hard to predict how many students will use it and how much of an impact it will have on the virus spreading,” Foss said.