By Brittany Britto, Staff writer
University of Houston and Texas A&M University systems have announced that they intend to open their colleges this fall.
During a morning call, Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp told the system’s 11 college presidents and the heads of the its eight agencies the plan is for its campuses to be “open and operational” for the fall semester with football, according to system spokesman Laylan Copelin.
Those campuses include the flagship in College Station and Prairie View A&M University.
The reopening, however, comes with a caveat.
A&M’s system is actively planning how to do it safely — with testing, contract tracing, and the involvement of “our Health Science Center personnel to ensure the welfare of our students, faculty and staff,” Copelin said in a written statement. “That means in-person instruction and playing football safely for our players and fans.”
Copelin added that the final decision is left up to Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas A&M System board of regents, as well as the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference, but Sharp has still urged system leadership to devise a plan that will achieve the goal of reopening.
“Make this happen,” Sharp said at the conclusion of the meeting, according to Copelin.
The announcement comes after colleges and universities around the country closed campuses and resumed classes online in March due to efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Amid uncertainties during the pandemic, many colleges are continuing classes online through the summer while weighing their options for the fall.
University of Houston System Chancellor Renu Khator wrote in an email to faculty and staff Thursday that the system plans to resume face-to-face instruction in the fall, but it will look different.
The UH system is preparing for three methods of learning, which include fully online, fully on-campus, and a hybrid form, all of which will depend on public health conditions in the city. Officials should decide how learning will be delivered in late May or early June, but there are plans to reopen in four phases, starting with research operations, then low-risk administrative operations, all operations and athletics, and finally, classroom instruction.
Research labs at UH colleges can open as early as May 5, but it is voluntary and up to researchers, Khator wrote. Anyone working in a lab will be required to complete training, pass a health screening test, and cooperate with contact tracing.
Khator emphasized that CDC and state rules and guidelines will be followed, including maintaining social distancing and using face masks if within six feet of another person. Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 or another respiratory illness will not be allowed in labs, and facilities will adhere to strict rules to clean and disinfect common spaces and labs.
All staff and faculty, except those who choose to open labs or are classified as essential, will continue working remotely.
Rice University President David Leebron said in a letter to parents Wednesday that he is “cautiously optimistic” about reopening its campus to students in the fall. Leebron added that he should have some initial announcements by the end of next week, but officials at the private college will assess through the summer how they would reopen safely while still offering the experience the college is known for.
Officials with the University of St. Thomas in Houston and Baylor University have also announced plans to reopen in the fall and are similarly brainstorming and planning ways to make that happen safely by implementing social distancing and guidelines from government and public health officials.
University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves said the college will make an announcement by the end of June about whether UT will reopen in the fall.