UT Plans for an In-Person Fall Semester
May 06, 2021

UT Plans for an In-Person Fall Semester

Reporting Texas TV

AUSTIN, Texas —With more than 100,000 vaccine doses distributed by the UT vaccination hub, returning to campus for in-person classes seems more and more likely.

Terrian Spurs, a junior communications and leadership major, expected to return to campus in March 2020 after a two-week Spring Break. Instead, she finished her sophomore year at home in Houston, without many of her class materials for the first month.

“My homework assignments, my textbooks, like a lot of that stuff was back home,” Spurs said.

“I will admit, all of my professors when that first happened were very understanding and they kind of adjusted well for me.”

After a year of attending classes online, Spurs wonders if students are ready to return to regular college courses.

“I feel like we’ve become so adjusted to online learning… for a lot of students, it will probably be difficult to readjust. I feel like now I have to retrain my study habits,” she said.

Nearly-empty campus buildings await the return of faculty and students in the fall, but there is still uncertainty about how UT will balance safety and in-person education. (Photo: Brynne Herzfeld)

Kathleen Harrison, the communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said 90% of fall 2021 courses are planned to be in-person. The goal is for them to be as similar as possible to the fall of 2019.

She said it is still too early to say what classes will look like in terms of social distancing and wearing masks.

“We’re still kind of in uncharted territory because we’re still in the pandemic, but we have a year of online instruction in dealing with how university operations work during a pandemic, so we’ve learned a lot,” Harrison said.

The university hopes to keep measures like the Protect Texas Together protocols in place for the fall semester. Although UT has encouraged faculty and students to get vaccinated against COVID-19, vaccination status has no bearing on whether students can attend in-person courses.

“We cannot require preventive vaccination, and we are asking faculty not to ask students to prove that either. There’s a whole FERPA and HIPAA situation there as well, in terms of sharing vaccination status,” Harrison said.

Most of the seats in this large lecture hall at the University of Texas are tied down and unusable due to social distancing guidelines. (Photo: Brynne Herzfeld)

Journalism associate professor Kevin Robbins taught a hybrid class last fall that was forced online in October due to rising COVID cases. While he is comfortable wearing masks inside the classroom, he hopes that new CDC guidelines will allow classes to go outdoors without masks.

“The guidance now from the CDC is that if everybody’s vaccinated, you’re perfectly fine to be outside together with your masks off. I hope that on nice days outside, we can go outside, sit in a big circle and take off our masks,” Robbins said

He found ways to successfully transition his in-person classes to a digital format, but said he still misses the hustle and bustle of campus life, and the unique interactions that can only happen when  face-to-face.

“When you’re doing something and it’s really working and everyone’s engaged, ideas are just bouncing off the walls,” Robbins said.

”It’s amazing and unpredictable. That can only happen in a classroom. It really can’t happen on Zoom. I can’t wait for that to happen again.”

As a student who has only returned to campus a few times since last spring, Spurs also looks forward to seeing her friends in person again. She will be fully vaccinated.

“I feel like I’m just really excited to see them again and hug them again,” she said.

“I really miss being in that social environment, for sure.”

For more information on UT’s response to COVID-19 and community resources, visit coronavirus.utexas.edu.