By Erik Kjer, News Editor Originally published in Issue 7, Volume 33 of The University Register on February 12, 2021
At the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year Morris students returning to campus were filled with apprehension and faced an uncertain future. Countless universities and colleges across the country had made the decision to move entirely online and many who did not experienced dramatic increases in COVID-19 infections in the early weeks of the fall semester. With the exception of the Morris and Crookston campuses, the rest of the University of Minnesota system adopted a multi-stage designed to transition into a hybrid learning format. During the final semester of 2020, the University of Minnesota Morris was able to keep its campus open without any unforeseen disruption, but saw nearly one hundred cases among students on campus.
As students returned to campus last month, there were once again questions about the safety of in-person classes. Since students left in November, cumulative cases in Stevens County, Minnesota, and the United States as a whole, have roughly doubled, and although new infections have been steadily trending downward since early January, the pandemic clearly won’t be over anytime soon. The University Register spoke with Morris Chancellor Michelle Behr about what the spring semester would look like.
When asked about the spike that was seen from late November to early January, Chancellor Michelle Behr believed it largely wouldn’t impact the spring semester.
“We encouraged students to be careful before they came back to campus, to test before they came back to campus, to test when they got back to campus, and then to test subsequently if they felt like they needed to,” Behr said. “One thing that has changed quite a bit is the availability of testing. It was a challenge in the fall and it is less so now. [Community members] are testing when they feel like they need to. I feel like the messaging was always we’re in this together and we all bear responsibility for making sure that we follow the basic guidance. I think for Morris because of who we are and because of who is in school here stepped up.”
Many observers speculate the future teleconferencing will likely play a much larger role in higher education and the Chancellor seemed to share this notion.
“Before the pandemic, Morris wasn’t very involved in any sort of online education,” Behr said. “There were some summer courses that were offered remotely but not so much during the course of the academic year. I suspect that some of the lessons that people are learning in the digital and remote context will carry over even in classes that end up being fully in person in the future. There are some things that you can do better via technology. As a whole, the university is talking about what we have learned that’s positive that we could incorporate as we think about instruction in the future. I can give you a concrete example of something that we’re doing that’s new and I think exciting. We don’t offer on this campus an accounting minor, but it is something that there has been some demand for over the years. Crookston does offer an accounting minor and so we now have the ability to allow Morris students to take some of the credits for the minor on the Morris campus and some of the credits remotely from Crookston and graduate with a Morris bachelor’s degree and a Crookston minor.”
Chancellor Behr also expressed optimism about the university’s future.
“I’d like to say that Morris is such a wonderful university and there’s such good energy here,” she said, “and people faculty staff and students are so invested in the future of this institution. We have our challenges to be sure, but I am so optimistic for our future. We’re imagining what it is like to be the model for liberal arts education in the 21st century and we’re building some structures to help us do that and so I’m just really optimistic for our future.”
Photo on top courtesy of Liberal Arts Colleges