Amid a surge in coronavirus cases in San Antonio, Texas A&M University-San Antonio plans to offer about 30% of its classes in person for the fall semester starting August 20.
University leaders say the inclusion of face-to-face instruction is part of a balanced approach that considers both public health and student need.
“We’re in a high-risk community, but our campus is fairly isolated within that high-risk community, so where I think we have the most risk then is in housing and in group gatherings, and so we’re trying to figure out how to balance that,” University President Cynthia Teniente-Matson said Thursday during an Education Writers Association panel.
Texas A&M-San Antonio is south of Interstate 410 on about 700 acres. It has one residence hall with about 400 beds, but most students live off campus.
As a university that serves primarily students of color who are the first in their family to go to college, Teniente-Matson said Texas A&M-San Antonio has an obligation to make sure its students have what they need to be successful academically.
“They live within inequities, so although it’s not a perfect environment, the calculations of what it takes to be open within this balanced approach to mitigating risk is still a better option than some of our community has,” Teniente-Matson said.
About 74% of Texas A&M-San Antonio students are Latino, and 60% are lower income.
The Alamo Colleges District, which serves a similar student body, is only offering about 10% of its classes in person this fall, limiting it to career and technical courses and arts and science courses that require hands-on access.
According to the university’s provost, Mike O’Brien, Texas A&M-San Antonio is offering about 30% of classes in person because the faculty members teaching those courses said they were comfortable teaching face-to-face.
“We’re part of a system, and we’re one of 11 campuses, so we have guidance and the (Texas A&M System) chancellor has said we’re going to have face-to-face instruction for those campuses this fall,” O’Brien said.
To help reduce the number of students exposed to each other, the college is offering block schedules for first-year students. The same group of students will attend a block of four courses back-to-back in the same classroom, with professors cycling in and out of the room.
Everyone is required to wear masks, and professors will have rolling plexi-glass shields they can take with them in and out of the classroom.
“It’s addressing the needs of especially the freshmen. Those are the ones you’ve got to hook or they won’t be back next semester,” O’Brien said.
Many classrooms will also have bi-directional cameras that turn in the direction of the person speaking, allowing students streaming the class from home to see both the professor and the students in the room, depending on who is speaking.
All courses will be offered both online and in-person, enabling students to choose the format they prefer, and allowing the university to move completely online if needed.
According to O’Brien and Teniente-Matson, faculty members were also given the choice of teaching remotely or in person. But the faculty senate approved a resolution late last week asking the university to move all courses except for labs online.
“The University is a leader in the San Antonio community and should act in solidarity with local leaders and take steps to ensure that our day-to-day functioning does not worsen the current public health crisis,” the resolution said, pointing to the order to close K-12 schools until after Labor Day as a reason to move courses online.
The faculty senate pointed to the university’s majority Hispanic population as a reason to hold classes online instead of in person, due to the disproportionate rate of coronavirus cases in Latinos across the country, and asked Texas A&M-San Antonio to use the rate of local community spread as the benchmark for when it is safe to resume in-person classes.
According to the university’s coronavirus plan, the committee monitoring the need to close the campus will consider community spread as one of several factors, including the level of spread among faculty and students and recommendations from local and state officials.
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