Updated Wednesday at 5 p.m. CT
UWM Chancellor Mark Mone told students and staff in an email Wednesday evening that UWM was officially suspending in-person classes between March 30 (after a prolonged spring break) and April 10.
"It is our hope that we will return to our normal instruction and operations the following week, beginning Monday, April 13," Mone wrote. "However, due to the dynamic nature of the pandemic, we will be re-evaluating the timeline and will keep you informed on when in-person instruction will resume, with one week’s notice. More specific information on your courses will be forthcoming from your instructors."
UW-Madison and several other UW institutions have made similar decisions this week.
A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee employee is sick and being tested for the novel coronavirus. Regardless of whether that person tests positive, UWM is extending its spring break an additional week to give the university extra time to move as many classes as possible online for the rest of the semester.
That puts UWM among a growing list of colleges across the U.S. that are suspending some or all in-person classes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Chancellor Mark Mone said at a Tuesday evening announcement that the school had already been thinking about moving instruction online. But the fact that a university employee may be infected is accelerating those efforts.
“We think this is erring on the side of caution. We don’t have that positive test yet, but should it occur, we’re planning as if that’s the right thing to do,” Mone said.
According to Mone, the sick employee works for the UWM Foundation and became ill after contact with someone who traveled to a country with a severe coronavirus outbreak. Mone says campus officials should know by the end of the week whether the employee has COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
Also by the end of the week, UWM will announce more information about how it will move classes online for its more than 20,000 students.
“There are some classes that it’s rather difficult to do that,” Mone said. “There are practicum experiences, there’s performance and dance classes and music and theater — that’s harder to do online. So we’re looking at a number of alternatives and ways we can complete that.”
UWM faculty have concerns about adapting their in-person courses to online in a short timeframe. Suzanne Boyd is chair of the mathematical sciences department. She is especially worried about students in remedial math classes, where in-person instruction is key.
“The students are doing presentations on the board, the instructor is walking around working with them one-on-one,” Boyd says. “And these are the students in the lowest socioeconomic, the most disadvantaged demographics … we don’t know how many of them have internet access or computers at home. So the lowest level classes is what I’m worried about.”
Boyd says some of UWM’s more than 100 math professors are experienced with online instruction. But not all of them.
“We’re gonna try it. But I think we’re gonna have to be really flexible for the rest of the semester with things like student deadlines, with things like student internet connectivity problems, with student and faculty illnesses,” she said.
UWM art education student Christiana McClurg says she doesn’t know how she could complete the semester if classes went online. She’s taking two studio art classes and is student teaching at a local public school.
“We’re out and working at other schools and an elementary and middle school,” McClurg said. “So I think the classes we take, we’re really required to do some hands-on stuff.”
McClurg and Boyd spoke with WUWM Tuesday morning, before Chancellor Mark Mone announced an employee is being tested for COVID-19.
While UWM works to figure out how it will make this transition, other Milwaukee-area campuses are weighing similar considerations.
The questions are especially pressing at Cardinal Stritch, where it was announced Tuesday that three students are in quarantine after possible coronavirus exposure. The students are roommates, and they traveled to Washington state over spring break earlier this month. One of them found out on Monday that someone they had contact with in Washington was diagnosed with COVID-19.
That student and the two roommates are quarantined and taking their classes online. They’re not showing symptoms and they haven’t been tested for the virus, according to Stritch President Kathleen Rinehart.
“I want to be clear that there is not a diagnosis of COVID-19 on this campus and that none of the three students are exhibiting any symptoms,” Rinehart told WUWM. “We’re working closely with the state and local health departments who are monitoring those students.”
Rinehart sent a memo to Stritch employees and students saying that if they feel safer working online from home, the university will accommodate them. But Stritch is not canceling face-to-face classes at this time.
UWM will continue with in-person classes through this week. Spring break runs March 15-29. Students will need to stay tuned for updates about what classes will look like when the break is over.
There have been three confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Wisconsin, but none in the Milwaukee area.
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