University officials discuss Martin's return to campus

MARTIN, Tennessee -- University officials all over the world are looking at whether or not students will return to campuses in the fall. The University of Tennessee at Martin’s classes are set to start on August 24, 2020, but it’s unclear if students will be on campus.

UT Martin Chancellor Dr. Keith Carver says it’s clear that the Fall 2020 semester will look different.

“It’s going to be very different than a traditional fall, whether we’re looking at a residential experience, whether we’re looking at a sort of hybrid online-residential experience or whether we’re looking at it all online,” says Carver. “This fall is just going to be drastically different because of the coronavirus.”

The decision to reopen UTM’s campus is dependent on many different factors, Carver said, and it’s not just up to him. All UT campuses have implemented task forces to help facilitate discussions about the safety and health of students, faculty and staff.

Carver says it’s too soon to know if students will be on campus in the fall. “[We will] make a decision around June [for] the fall, but right now May 11 is still too early to say ‘hey, this is what we’re doing in the fall,’ so we’re trying to plan for a wide variety of approaches.”

However, UT System President Randy Boyd is optimistic that all system campuses will be filled with students and in-person activities. Boyd announced on May 6 that students across the system will return to campuses.

“We are officially planning to come back to school in the fall,” Boyd told WUTM News. “We declared that our plan is to come back in the fall. If things change, plans will change, but our current plan is to come back.”

Even though UTM, UTC and UTK transitioned classes online in March on the same day, UTM officials could decide to keep campus closed or to reopen in August based on the number of cases in the area and class size.

Carver said many of Knoxville’s classes have 50 or more students, but UTM’s average class size is 23 students. Carver is enthusiastic to see what August brings.

“I do think we’ve got the opportunity to come up with some pretty creative solutions, so I’m excited to see what happens,” said Carver.

Boyd said the university has lost around $40 million, which was reported at a recent Board of Trustees meeting.

“Systemwide now we’ve got about half of that back from the federal government that we will be able to use to offset some of our costs,” said Boyd. “Most of the money [...] is going back directly to the students and their families.”

When students do come back to campus for classes, the Chancellor and the President know a lot will change. One thing that won’t change is the amount students pay each semester. Boyd said that each UT campus proposed a 0% tuition increase last month.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help support our students and families.”

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