University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank discussed the plans for fall semester amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in an email to UW students, earlier today. 

Blank also posted the email to her blog this afternoon — she wrote, after dealing with the immediate issues caused by the pandemic, UW is focusing on preparing a phased reopening over the course of the summer into the fall.

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As Wisconsin begins to loosen restrictions and reopen the state, Blank said the experimentation provides a chance to learn more about how COVID-19 is spread and whether reopening will trigger a new wave of infections. Blank said UW will open in the fall, but how the fall semester will play out remains uncertain.

“I can also tell you that UW-Madison will be open this fall, offering a full suite of educational programming to ensure that our 45,000+ students are able to continue their education,” Blank said in her blog. “What I can’t tell you quite yet is the mix of in-person versus online instruction that we will be able to offer.”

Blank said UW anticipates thousands of students will return to live on campus this fall. But UW is also preparing to accommodate students who are unable to come back due to pre-existing medical conditions or international barriers, Blank said. 

Blank said the most likely outcome will be a hybrid instructional format of online and in-person instruction. While larger lectures will “almost surely” be online, Blank said UW plans to offer some face-to-face section meetings for smaller classes and discussions. 

“We need to make a substantial share of the curriculum available remotely,” Blank wrote. “At the same time, we should try to give as many students a small class/discussion experience as possible, whether in-person or online, to foster the learning and connections that small groups are so well-suited to provide.”

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Blank also said the university is exploring changes to other aspects of student life, including dining and residence halls. Several different task forces are working on research and planning to resume campus functions in a safe manner, according to Blank.

Some of these plans, including the delivery of the SOAR orientation program, will be available soon. Blank said the end of July is the targeted release date of UW’s final decision on the number of in-person courses. 

“We’re balancing everyone’s desire to plan for the fall with our need to provide a safe environment for our community,” Blank wrote. “We’ll continue to provide updates with as much information as we are able throughout the summer months.”