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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

UWM Releases Fall Plans: Face Masks Required, Large Classes Online

Emily Files
UWM Chancellor Mark Mone at a press conference in March, announcing the school would shut down because of coronavirus concerns. On Wednesday, Mone announced UWM will reopen this fall, with a slew of safety precautions.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will reopen its campus for the fall semester, with a slew of safety precautions to protect against the transmission of COVID-19.

Students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors. Classrooms will be reconfigured for social distancing. And large-enrollment courses will remain online.

In a normal semester at UWM, about 20% of classes are online. But this fall, the number will be reversed, according to Scott Gronert, dean of UWM’s College of Letters and Sciences.

Gronert is one of the administrators leading academic planning efforts for fall. He told WUWM that although details are still being worked out, an estimated 70% of courses will be online to reduce the number of students and staff on campus.

“We’re not at either extreme of almost all face-to-face to almost all online,” Gronert said. “We’re in a middle ground, but tilted towards online.”

UWM made an unplanned shift to online instruction in March amid the public health emergency. Afterwards, students were surveyed about what they prefer in the fall: face-to-face or online classes. Students chose face-to-face learning by a 2-to-1 ratio.

“We’re working very hard to develop the best online courses. But we heard from our students after the spring that it didn’t seem to give them the same learning opportunities that they had in a face-to-face environment,” Gronert said. “So that is a part of the driving force.”

UWM is still working to figure out which courses will be in-person. Hands-on labs and studios will take priority, as will developmental courses and classes for freshmen. Any classes with enrollment of 100 or more will be online.

“We’re very much focused on, as much as possible, giving students the option,” Gronert said. “So if they want the face-to-face experience they can find that on-campus. And if they want the online experience, they’ll have that option too.”

Listen to Emily Files' extended conversation with College of Letters and Science Dean Scott Gronert and Johannes Britz, Provost of UW-Milwaukee.

"We're very much focused on, as much as possible, giving students the option. If they want the face-to-face experience, they can find that on-campus. And if they want the online experience, they'll have that option too." - Scott Gronert

Even for courses with an in-person component, most instructors will use a hybrid model combining face-to-face and online. That’s because some students might want to participate remotely due to health concerns, or there could be a coronavirus outbreak that shuts down classrooms again.

Face coverings will be required in buildings, as will 6 feet of social distancing. There are some exceptions, such as in private offices or residence hall rooms. Masks will also be required outside when social distancing isn’t possible.

There will also be more frequent cleanings, and hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies will be available in buildings.

UWM Provost Johannes Britz says leaders will try to accommodate faculty and staff concerns about being back in the classroom. More than half of UWM’s instructors are over 50 years old, which puts them in a higher risk category for coronavirus complications.

“The baseline here is we do care for our faculty, staff, their safety, their concerns,” Britz told WUWM. “As far as we can, we will of course accommodate those.”

UW-Madison also announcedits reopening plans Wednesday. Like UWM, Madison will start the semester at the usual time, Sept. 2, with a mix of in-person and online classes. But Madison will end in-person instruction after Thanksgiving and hold its last couple weeks of class and final exams in a remote format.

UWM does not have plans to stop face-to-face classes after Thanksgiving, but Britz said it could happen depending on the public health situation.

Also in contrast to UW-Madison, UWM will not implement widespread COVID-19 testing of students or staff. Testing will be available on-campus for students with symptoms. Britz says this is based on the advice of health officials.

In a press release, UWM officials said residence halls will be open in the fall, with room assignments made “largely as they have in the past.” Some residence hall space will be reserved for isolating students who have been exposed or infected by the virus.

Editors note: This story has been updated. 

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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