FORT SMITH -- The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith decided to move instruction and operations from in-person to remote delivery due to the ongoing surge of the omicron variant of covid-19 in Arkansas.
Chancellor Terisa Riley wrote in an email to the institution's campus the move would start at 5 p.m. Friday with the intent to return to campus Jan. 24. This decision was made during a review Riley called Thursday night with the university's Covid-19 Emergency Management Team, which consists of representatives from various entities on campus.
"In the state of Arkansas cases have reached an all-time high, with nearly 13,000 new cases recorded yesterday alone," Riley said. "On our own campus, we have had more students and employees who have reported active cases this week, and even more are quarantining after being exposed to positive cases. This is up from just 13 active cases on campus one week ago today."
Riley emphasized it's a temporary measure. She said it would allow faculty, staff and students who tested positive to recover and those exposed to be released from quarantine while also continuing the university's educational mission online. The university will provide an update Thursday to confirm the return to on-campus work and instruction starting Jan. 24.
Courses that must meet in person, such as those with clinical rotations, internship placements and courses requiring hands-on skills hours, may be exempt from the change to online learning, Riley said. Students will be notified if they'll have in-person courses by Monday. The university's information technology staff agreed to help students, faculty and staff without access to computers or internet at home by providing loaner Wi-Fi hot spots, as well as laptop computers and tablets.
The events the university originally intended to be held on campus to celebrate and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. next week also shifted to online formats. These include the annual commemorative breakfast scheduled for 8 a.m. Monday and two fireside chats set to for noon Wednesday and Friday.
Riley said most campus services will move to remote work as well, with the exception of housing, dining, security and maintenance services.
"We know this pivot will not be easy for all students, faculty or staff members, but we believe it is the only way to ensure a safe and effective return to campus for the rest of the Spring semester," Riley wrote.
Riley said events scheduled to take place at the Center for Economic Development at the Bakery District in downtown Fort Smith will continue as planned, albeit with strict covid protocols. Student athletes at the university may continue practice and play as scheduled because of covid-19 mandates for play in the NCAA Division II.