The University of New Hampshire will temporarily move all classes online after next week's spring break in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The decision, announced Thursday afternoon, came after days of confusion and fear among students and faculty about UNH's response to the pandemic.
School officials had said just hours earlier that in-person classes would resume after spring break. Now, they say “all classes will be 100% online or via other alternative (non-face-to-face) delivery” from March 23 to April 3, with “no need for students to return to campus” in that time.
“Face-to-face classes are currently scheduled to resume Monday, April 6,” UNH president James Dean says in a letter to students. “We will keep you informed if this changes.”
UNH senior Nick Stuart says he thinks the decision to go all-online should have come sooner.
“It’s not fun and it’s not ideal, but it’s what it takes to mitigate the spread of a global pandemic,” Stuart says, “and that’s what we really need right now."
Stuart had emailed UNH police chief Paul Dean Thursday morning with concerns about the earlier plan for classes to continue classes in-person. Dean’s response at the time was “sit tight. More to come.”
UNH is also requiring a two-week self-quarantine for any student diagnosed with COVID-19 or exposed to a potential carrier of it – or who has traveled to a range of affected places, including:
- Europe, Asia or on a cruise ship
- San Francisco or the New York or Seattle metro areas, or any other municipality taking steps such as closing schools or limiting large gatherings
- States with more than 100 diagnosed cases of coronavirus
This last category includes neighboring Massachusetts, which students say affects a large portion of the campus community.
Nick Stuart says students feel unclear on exactly how to self-quarantine, or where to go with questions. Still, he says he's canceling a spring break visit to his girlfriend's family in Boston as a result and will remain in his off-campus housing in Durham instead.
UNH will make some on-campus housing available for students who live in dorms and “are unable to go home or travel due to concern for their safety or to avoid the need to self-quarantine,” according to the president’s letter.
These students are asked to call the UNH Housing office at 603-862-2120 to access housing “on a restricted basis” during spring break or the remote class period. Meanwhile, UNH staff are gearing up to help faculty run their online classes.
“I am encouraged that the university has decided to take this issue very seriously,” says earth sciences professor Cameron Wake. “I think this is a really important move to help us flatten the curve.”
That refers to the rate at which people are infected with COVID-19, and slowing that rate over time to keep it within the limits of what the health care system can handle. Professor Larry Hamilton says resuming in-person classes would have been “the wrong call” – and that going online was inevitable, given projections for how the virus may spread.
“[W]e lose time not preparing for something foreseeable,” Hamilton says in an email. He says professors “are discussing amongst themselves” how they’ll handle the rest of the semester.
It's unclear if the final decision to move classes online came from UNH or the University System of New Hampshire. UNH officials referred a request for comment to the state system, where a spokesperson said only that they were “adapting rapidly” to federal and state guidance and could not provide an interview.