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UA Little Rock makes plans to open fall semester with a flexible approach

Donaghey Student Center
Donaghey Student Center

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is planning to reopen its campus and residence halls and resume face-to-face classes in a flexible hybrid format for the fall 2020 semester.

To ensure the safety of the UA Little Rock community, a number of safety protocols will be in place. These include moving as many classes as possible to larger classrooms and meeting rooms to allow for social distancing, wearing masks in all common spaces on campus when social distancing cannot be maintained, and equipping all classroom and common areas with sanitization resources.

While UA Little Rock officials hope that students can remain on campus throughout the semester, the university is prepared to convert to online learning immediately if needed. A majority of fall classes have been converted to a hybrid learning format, allowing faculty the flexibility of offering in-person class sessions or online meetings depending on student health needs.

“We are excited about welcoming our Trojan family back to campus this fall,” Chancellor Christina Drale said. “However, the health and safety of our campus community remains our top priority. We are working diligently on contingency plans to prepare for continuing public health developments.”

UA Little Rock has created two teams to advise university leaders and guide campus planning this fall. The Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT) coordinates the COVID-19 emergency response efforts and reopening protocols for student services and business offices. Meanwhile, the Provost’s Academic COVID-19 Taskforce (PACT) oversees academic and student support issues related to the pandemic. The taskforce is developing contingency plans involving course scheduling, classroom space, and additional support for students and faculty to ensure continuous learning during the pandemic.

“We are carefully following guidance from the UA System, the Arkansas Department of Health, and the Center for Disease Control as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold,” said Chancellor Drale. “As new information and guidelines evolve, UA Little Rock’s plans will change as appropriate.”

To provide support for those in the Trojan community who have increased caretaking needs due to the pandemic, UA Little Rock will promote a culture of flexibility by providing, to the extent possible, remote work options. Faculty are encouraged to provide flexible class attendance policies, deadlines, and course structures to accommodate students who may need to stay home or miss synchronous class sessions due to technology issues, illness, caretaking, increased work (for first responders), or self-isolation. Students can find out more about requesting immunosuppressed-related accommodations at Disability Resource Center, and faculty and staff can go to Human Resources.

UA Little Rock will also welcome students back to its residence halls for the fall semester. In most cases, residence hall capacities will be reduced to accommodate one student per bedroom. The university is developing a plan to provide engaging campus life while ensuring safety protocols. Activities, events, and student programming will resume in the fall, but with limited seating to ensure social distancing and virtual attendance options if possible.

“In addition to contingency planning, UA Little Rock is taking additional steps to provide financial assistance to students impacted by COVID-19,” said Dr. Cody Decker, vice chancellor for student affairs. “This includes providing up to $11 million in institutional and private scholarships, disbursing $3 million to students from the federal CARES Act, waiving application fees for fall 2020 by using the code TROJAN2020 for undergraduate students and GRAD2020 for graduate students, and extending the deadline for most merit scholarships to Aug. 1, 2020.”

UA Little Rock has been preparing multiple resources to assist faculty members to continue to deliver excellent online courses. The Scholarly Technology and Resources office has developed a Fast Track to Teaching Online course, a virtual alternative to the Summer Academy for Online Learning Excellence that provides professional development geared toward creating engaging instructional content and meaningful learning experiences for traditional, hybrid, and online courses.

“We want faculty members to be aware that social distancing guidelines will be in place during the fall semester, and we are taking precautions to be ready to resume online learning as we continue protecting the health of our students,” said Dr. David Montague, director of online learning and faculty mentoring. “The Fast Track to Teaching Online course is just one of the things we are doing to help our faculty provide strong instruction in the online learning environment.”

The UA Little Rock Office of Communications and Marketing is creating a new website with information and resources for students, faculty, staff, parents, and community members. A bi-weekly COVID-19 newsletter will provide information to prepare the Trojan community for the reopening of campus.