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story.lead_photo.caption Kassandra Salazar (left), a sophomore at the University of Arkansas from Rogers, speaks Tuesday, April 5, 2016, to a group of 11th-grade students from Heritage High School in Rogers as they walk past Old Main while on a tour of the university campus in Fayetteville. ( NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo / Andy Shupe)

University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees will consider today a resolution to increase face-to-face instruction when possible during the spring semester amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The board's academic and student affairs committee approved the resolution Thursday, and the full board will vote on it today.

The vote will take place at the first face-to-face trustees meeting since January, despite continued record-breaking new or active covid-19 cases and hospitalizations per day in Arkansas. The regularly scheduled, two-day meeting is in Fayetteville, ahead of the LSU-Arkansas football game Saturday. Before Thursday, trustees had met numerous times, via teleconference. Teleconference is still an option for this week's meeting, and many, including some trustees, used it Thursday.

The resolution is intended to be flexible, allowing campuses to make decisions about how safe face-to-face courses are, based on coronavirus spread in their areas.

The resolution, while urging more face-to-face courses during the upcoming semester than were held this semester, stipulates that health policy directives must be followed while planning for the spring term. Campuses should also keep plans to shift delivery methods as necessary, it states.

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But the resolution is meant to "signify the intent of the system," President Donald Bobbitt told trustees Thursday. Education is best delivered face-to-face, Bobbitt said. He added he's worried about the atmosphere on campuses and morale of students.

Officials and trustees discussed the resolution briefly.

"On behalf of my freshman son at UA-F I move to approve," said Trustee Kelly Eichler, who is on the academic and student affairs committee.

"On behalf of my granddaughter, who is also freshman at UA-F, I second," said Trustee Ed Fryar, who chairs the committee.

Trustees directed campuses to be open to face-to-face instruction during the current fall semester back in May when state government began to allow phased-in reopening of certain businesses to foot traffic and curfews stopped.

The shift last spring to fully remote instruction, when the coronavirus first arrived in Arkansas, ended up costing residential universities millions of dollars in lost housing and dining revenue.

Infections of covid-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes, have had various surges since then but have grown to levels not seen before in Arkansas and elsewhere in recent weeks. Hospitals are expanding bed space and preparing for further contingency operations, concerned about their abilities to staff them, as they await another surge from the Thanksgiving holiday.

This fall, universities offered most courses in at least a hybrid face-to-face and virtual format, so students could choose, to an extent, whether to stay home or go to class. Community colleges, home to many workforce training and other courses with heavy hands-on learning, generally had more face-to-face courses.

As the months have worn on, some universities have reported that many students once attending classes on campus are now increasingly choosing to attend virtually, and the number of people on campus is shrinking.

In his letter to trustees introducing the resolution, dated Nov. 10, Bobbitt wrote, "As we have learned to live within the parameters established by public health officials regarding social distancing and cloth face coverings, it is believed that more instruction can be safely delivered in-person in the Spring semester."

The resolution states that the "Board acknowledges the need for students across academic disciplines to continue to have the opportunity to grow intellectually in their higher education pursuits through direct interaction with the distinguished and accomplished faculty members across the UA System."

It continues, "the Board directs the President and the Chancellors across the UA System to work with faculty leadership to facilitate and increase in face-to-face instruction with a goal of returning as many formerly traditional courses to face-to-face instruction (entirely or hybrid) as is safely possible during the Spring 2021 semester."


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