Notre Dame Plans to Reopen Its Campus in the Fall

The university said on Monday that the fall semester will begin and end earlier than usual, without breaks, to minimize the chances for students to bring the coronavirus back to campus.

Credit…Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune, via Associated Press

The University of Notre Dame said on Monday that it would resume in-person classes on Aug. 10, becoming one of the first major universities to announce how it would reopen campus after the coronavirus pandemic led to academic shutdowns nationwide.

Classes will begin two weeks earlier than usual so students can complete a full semester by Thanksgiving, the university said. Notre Dame hopes that skipping a traditional fall break will reduce the likelihood that students will bring the virus back to its campus outside South Bend, Ind.

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, the university’s president, compared reopening the campus to “assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed.”

It will be a challenge, he said, “but we believe it is one we can meet.”


Credit…Matt Cashore/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Notre Dame’s decision came one week after the nearly 500,000-student California State system announced that it would not reopen as usual for the fall semester, and that classes would be held primarily online. Most schools, including Notre Dame, held courses online only for the final months of the spring semester.

The University of South Carolina announced this month that the campus would reopen in August for three months of in-person classes with no fall break and then shift to remote learning after Thanksgiving. The leaders of several other universities, including Brown and Purdue, have also said they have every intention of returning to campuses in the fall.

The different approaches highlight the fraught decision faced by the nation’s colleges and universities, and how there was not going to be one clear path for reopening.

“What happens at Grinnell is not necessarily what will happen at Columbia,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a trade association of college presidents.

Colleges and universities are going to be considering a range of practices — cleaning, testing, contact tracing, and social distancing — to protect the health of students, faculty and staff members as they decide whether to reopen in the fall, he said.

But any plans could change depending on how the virus spreads over the summer. “Three months from now, who knows what we will be talking about,” Mr. Hartle said.

Universities face strong social, academic and financial incentives to return. Closing down as they tried to protect students, staff and faculty from the coronavirus has cost them billions of dollars. Many students feel that going to school online does not give them the rich college experience they were expecting, and there are a growing number of class-action lawsuits demanding tuition refunds.

According to surveys of college and university presidents, the American Council on Education is projecting a 15 percent decline in enrollment this fall, Mr. Hartle said.

The decision to open may also depend on the location of a school and whether the number of new cases and deaths in the region is going up or down. New cases have been decreasing in Indiana.

Among the challenges for Notre Dame, officials there said, will be doing enough testing of students and staff to detect infection, and to isolate and quarantine if necessary. Faculty members have been asked to prepare both online and in-person versions of courses, so that students who are sick or quarantined can continue to keep up with their studies.

The university, a football powerhouse, has not yet made plans for whether and how to restore the athletic season, said Paul Browne, a spokesman.

Mr. Browne said the university had been exploring what to do for weeks, and had worked closely with medical experts at the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins University before deciding on a return to campus.

“If there were another outbreak, all of this is subject to change,” Mr. Browne said. “At this point, we’re confident, but we remain flexible.”

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