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Coronavirus: Cal State University system moves toward virtual learning for Fall 2020

Coronavirus: Cal State University system moves toward
virtual learning for Fall 2020 1

The spring semester nearing its close has brought unprecedented challenges — and change — to the California State University system, and its leaders are already planning to extend those measures into the fall.

Final exams will be taken virtually, if at all. Students will graduate without a ceremony. And then, if the COVID-19 pandemic plays out as experts expect, with the virus roaring back along with the seasonal flu in the fall, the 23 campuses and 500,000 some students that make up the Cal State University system will do it all over again.

That’s the plan relayed by Chancellor Timothy White to the board of trustees in a Zoom meeting Tuesday.

“Our university, when open in-person without restrictions, is a place where over 500,000 people come together in close and vibrant proximity with each other on a daily basis,” White said. “That approach, sadly, just isn’t in the cards now.”

Classes for the upcoming fall semester will be “primarily offered virtually” with “limited exceptions for in-person activities,” White said.

The Cal State system is among the first and the largest in the nation to make definitive plans for the next academic year. White said it would be irresponsible not to prepare for the worst, leaving open the possibility of more on-campus learning if the virus subsides and there aren’t more waves that follow.

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Campus leaders will work with public health experts and local officials, as well as student and faculty representatives, to decide the model that fits each best. Some will move to a hybrid of in-person and online learning, while others will be entirely virtual.

Exceptions for on-campus, in-person activities will be made on a limited basis. Some possible examples White offered: Clinical classes with training mannequins for nursing students; essential physical and life science lab classes; access to unique facilities for students in the performing arts; and hands-on capstone projects.

“Anything done on campus this fall won’t be done as it was in the past,” White said. “It will be different.”

If it all sounds a little premature, White understands.

“There are some people today who say we are moving too far and too fast in our planning,” he said. “I acknowledge and respect that point of view, but we sit with a different reality. … It would be irresponsible to wait until summer to plan for virtual learning. … I hope we are wrong.”

It’s been nearly two months since the Cal State system implemented virtual learning for the remainder of the spring semester, to mixed reviews. Cal State University and the University of California have drawn criticism — and a lawsuit — for continuing to charge campus-based student fees despite them being shut down.

White said the university is facing “significant budgetary restraints” because of the pandemic, but that “the university must do its part” to prioritize public health.

“We acknowledge,” White said, “the CSU acknowledges that our decision positively affects the communities with which our campuses are interconnected by minimizing the spread of COVID-19 but also negatively affecting global economies by impacting commerce and reducing the availability of cultural and athletic events.”

As for student impact of moving classes online, White committed to offering a “rich and meaningful learning experience” and discouraged students from pausing their educations but made no mention of tuition or fees for an all-virtual fall 2020.

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