Students were expected to return to face-to-face classes at Southern Miss on August 17. That changed when it was announced the first three weeks of the semester will be online only.
To get the opinions of faculty and students on returning to face-to-face classes, a survey was sent out. A total of 192 students and 163 faculty members responded. All of the responses were anonymous, allowing for students and faculty to give their honest opinion.
The main concern of faculty members was that face-to-face classes are not safe and there is a worry about the pandemic. Older faculty members in particular chose to teach online classes in order to stay healthy and avoid any sickness.
One faculty member said the university brings in thousands of 20-something-year-olds to move into apartments, dorms and Greek buildings. These students will be coming from many different Coronavirus hotspots, leading to sickness and possibly death.
Others pointed out that Southern Miss would need to close down again if the pandemic gets too bad, meaning no faculty or students could return for the Spring semester.
According to Ashish K. Jha, the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Mississippi is predicted to become the number one state in the nation for COVID-19 based on numbers per capita.
Jha went on to explain on Twitter that because Mississippi did not have a mask mandate and businesses were not taking proper precautions, it was on its way to become number one. Although masks have since become mandated, testing for COVID-19 has gone down eight percent, which may make it easier for asymptomatic people to infect others.
An article from the New York Times said, by July 29, more than 6,600 COVID-19 cases have been linked to American colleges. The article specifically said Southern Miss had 49 cases linked to the university, all connected to the athletics department.
One faculty member at Southern Miss said the only way the campus would be safe is if there was a 14-day period with no outbreaks. The same faculty member said it seems impossible to achieve that goal at this point, especially while teaching in an enclosed space with 10 to 15 students.
Another faculty member said the university’s administration did good work to protect everyone at campus under the extreme circumstances. “They are restricted by the IHL and have had to abide by its policies,” the faculty member said. “I think the administration has done the best it can with an overwhelming situation.”
The biggest concern students had while responding to the survey was how classes would operate.
“I am concerned that Southern Miss will be too eager to return to normal operation and that in-person classes and amenities will cause us to ultimately shut down completely,” one surveyed student said. “I wish they would offer both in-person and online options for course work so we have the choice of how to take on our education.”
The University of Southern Mississippi has been updating students and faculties throughout the entire pandemic at www.usm.edu/covid-19, including their most recent plan titled “Flight Path”. Flight Path’s web page includes information about the academic calendar for the fall semester, how to stay safe and healthy during the semester and rules that require face masks and social distancing when possible.
A video was uploaded to The University of Southern Mississippi’s YouTube channel on August 3, where University President Rodney Bennett Ph.D addressed the faculty and students about the fall semester.
“The university has been working really hard since last spring and all summer to prepare for the arrival of our students,” Bennett said. “I’m really excited about what we have put into place.”
Bennett said he believes the university is well positioned to continue important work educating and conducting research that helps improve the lives of all Mississippians. Bennett also thanked faculty and staff for their hard work all summer to position Southern Miss for a productive fall semester.
With this in mind, two faculty members offered ideas for ways to make the next semester easier. One suggested live streaming classes for a specific time during the week, and the other wanted to see increased engagement between faculty and students.
“Under the realities of the pandemic that we are all facing, I would like to see more engagement between the faculty and students in how we can meet student needs and be safe,” the faculty member said.
Bennett agreed with several previously mentioned sentiments in the video, stating that the university is adding significant modifications to Southern Miss’ academic calendar and course delivery method.
“We are implementing numerous additional institutional health protocols while emphasizing the importance of personal responsibility that must be embraced by all of those connected to our university,” Bennett said. “Current information will continue to be updated online at usm.edu/flightpath.”
Bennett said it is Southern Miss’ commitment to prepare students for a bright future no matter what unexpected circumstances may arise.
“Our goal is to help you cultivate the confidence and the skillset to adapt quickly to changes in the world around you,” Bennett said.