This message was shared with the students, faculty and staff of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa on April 27, 2021.
Aloha UH Mānoa ʻohana,
As we near the end of the spring 2021 semester, I want to provide an update to my March 29 message about the fall 2021 semester. With four months to go before the first day of fall classes, we are definitely trending in the right direction in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we cannot possibly know exactly where that fight will be at the start of the semester, we remain cautiously optimistic. We continue to prepare for our campus reawakening with the health and wellbeing of our community as our highest priority.
The biggest obstacle to fully reopening our campus, especially in-person instruction, is the 6-foot physical distancing recommended by the federal, state and the university’s own health officials. It limits classroom capacity by as much as 70%, and we had to continue to adhere to it when the fall course schedule was set before quantifiable results of our nation’s mass vaccination campaign were available. The course schedule with 3,806 sections was set in late March for student registration that began earlier this month. However, as more and more people get vaccinated (and barring any unforeseen setbacks), there is increasing likelihood that COVID-19 restrictions will loosen, including the 6-foot physical distancing recommendation.
It is our hope that this anticipated progress will lead to more in-person instruction this fall. For example, courses currently online can be moved to one of the newly-equipped “Here-or-There” classrooms, where cameras track the instructor. Students registered in a course that becomes available in one of these 75 new classrooms will have the option to attend in-person or remain online.
When the course schedule was set in late March, the delivery mode breakdown was 62% online and 38% fully or partially in-person. We will continue our work with our faculty to further reduce the percentage of courses offered only online.
We also have plans to incrementally increase capacity in student housing, as guidelines loosen. Looking ahead, we are very confident about the spring 2022 semester being a full return to normal and a majority of students returning to campus for in-person learning.
Aside from the challenge of changing course delivery modes, the fall will be an easier transition for the rest of campus life as restrictions are loosened. The expectation is that the campus will soon be reopened to the public. Students will be able to do just about everything in person while on campus, if they choose to, including participating in student organizations and research opportunities, as well as attending student events, performances and athletic events, including football games on campus for the first time in history. They’ll be able to reconnect and spend time with friends and have the college experience that the pandemic put on pause for them over the last 13 months.
I wish I could provide more certainty, but we are still not finished with the pandemic. We need everyone to do their part and get vaccinated, so we can safely reopen. The UH System is considering requiring vaccination to participate in in-person activities for the fall, except for medical or religious reasons, but this decision will depend on a number of factors, including decisions by federal and state officials. I promise that we will keep everyone informed in the weeks and months to come. (Register to reserve a vaccine appointment.)
The transition has already begun, and the reawakening of our campus is underway. Please know that our leadership teams, faculty and staff are doing everything we can to ensure that the fall semester will be safe, successful and memorable.
Mahalo nui loa,
UH Mānoa Provost