News outlets quote UNE President James Herbert on planning for the effects of coronavirus on fall term
As the media begin to explore how colleges and universities are preparing for the fall semester, a time during which public health conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are yet unknown, UNE President James D. Herbert, Ph.D., was recently quoted by two Maine news outlets that took a close look at how institutions of higher education around the state of Maine are preparing for the start of a new academic year amidst great uncertainty.
On April 15, the Portland Press Herald published an article titled “Maine colleges plan for how coronavirus could affect fall semester,” which reported on the various contingency plans now being created for the fall term by UNE, the University of Maine system, and Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby colleges.
The article quoted Herbert from his April 14 email to the UNE community in which he announced the charge of an ad hoc committee to explore various scenarios the University may face come September. “These are not small challenges to confront, and so many of the variables that will determine what the educational landscape actually looks like in the fall remain unknown at this time,” he said.
The article explained that the ad hoc committee will plan for at least two different scenarios – one in which the virus is contained to the point that students are able to return to campus and one in which the virus has not been adequately contained, necessitating the continuance of online instruction.
In the first scenario, the University would need a plan for dealing with the possibility of ill students. The other scenario would present its own set of problems. “We would face real challenges when it comes to assimilating new students into our community, meeting the needs of students in programs requiring hands-on learning as critical components of their curriculum, maintaining the momentum of our global education programs, and so on,” Herbert said. “This scenario is obviously not what we are hoping for, but we would be remiss not to plan for this contingency.”
Unlike some college presidents like David Greene of Colby College, who was quoted as favoring a delayed start of the year (with an extended end date in the spring) rather than continuing online education, Herbert said his preference would be to open on time, even if substantial adjustments would be required. “I don’t know what it’s going to be. But I would rather open up, even if it means we have to modify how we do business, than not open up until we can open in a completely normal way,” he stated.
In a segment that aired on April 17 on NEWS CENTER Maine, Herbert reaffirmed his hope to be able to adhere to the normal academic year’s schedule. “Our goal is to be open one way or the other in the fall,” he remarked. “That’s what we’re planning towards, and that’s what we’re hoping for. Now we recognize that until a vaccine comes along, it’s probably going to look a little different.”
The segment noted that Herbert’s first priority is the safety of the students and that, among other issues, UNE faculty and staff are looking into ways to alter the size of classes if students are able to return to campus. They are also considering how to best to proceed in delivering curriculum online in a scenario in which remote learning must continue.