University of Delaware announces spring semester return to campus

University of Delaware's campus in Newark

University of Delaware's campus in Newark. (University of Delaware)

It’s back to school for more students at the University of Delaware come February.

In a letter to the university community, UD president Dennis Assanis announced plans to bring back more students for a slightly delayed spring semester. That will start Feb. 15, one week later than originally planned, in hopes of waiting out the worst of the traditional flu season.

“At this time, we expect to offer more face-to-face classes, residence hall accommodations and campus activities for more students in the spring semester,” he wrote. “Of course, it is difficult to say with certainty what will happen in the weeks and months ahead, so our plans must remain flexible to accommodate the evolving nature of the pandemic.”

Large classes with 50 or more students will still be held online, though smaller, in-person breakout sessions will be available where possible for those bigger classes. Assanis said in-classroom teachers will be ready to switch back to online learning if necessary.

Very few students are taking classes on campus this semester, as the school limited in-person classes to areas that required face-to-face instruction, including nursing practice and some engineering labs. The number of students living in residence halls is currently limited to about 20% of capacity, or roughly 1,300 students. Starting in February, that limit will be increased to about 60% of capacity or roughly 4,000 students.

“Knowing how valuable the on-campus experience can be, we will give priority to first-year students, helping them build bonds with their new classmates, and to seniors, so they can pursue internships, research projects and other hands-on experiences to prepare them to enter the workforce after graduation,” Assanis said.

One experience students won’t get next year is spring break.

“To help minimize off-campus travel as a precautionary health measure, there will be no spring break, though UD will provide well-being programming for students, faculty and staff,” he said.

Delaware Gov. John Carney pointed to improving infection numbers at the university and the surrounding Newark area as a positive sign that students and residents were taking necessary precautions to limit the spread of the virus.

“The surge that we saw several weeks at the University of Delaware seems to have passed us by,” he said. “Don’t want to spike the ball there, but some really good cooperation there between the University of Delaware, the city of Newark, our teams and public health.”

The area around UD is seeing an average of just seven new cases per day, down from mid-September when cases were averaging 24 per day.

“The vast majority of our students, faculty and staff have embraced the ‘Protect the Flock’ mindset to keep themselves and each other safe,” Assanis said.

UD will soon begin ramping up its testing program — from 1,000 tests per week to 4,000 per week — in hopes of identifying virus cases as soon as possible to keep it from spreading.

All fall sports programs are expected to shift to the spring semester as well, including Blue Hen football, which is slated to start Jan. 23. Winter sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, will start Nov. 25.

The loss of in-person instruction this semester has caused a big budget hole for the university. With 10% fewer freshmen attending UD this year, and the number of returning students also down by 5%, the school is facing a shortfall that could be as high as $288 million.

As a result, workers in multiple departments have seen their hours or jobs cut. All staff are required to go through a period of unpaid leave and temporary reductions to retirement contributions.

UD is also taking an extra $100 million from its endowment to bridge the gap. That’s above the $50 million in endowment funds typically used in a normal budget year.

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