U-Md. also told students their break will last two weeks, twice as long as normal, while faculty gear up for the online transition. College Park’s spring courses will resume online March 30 and continue in that mode until at least April 10, the university said. Classes at the 41,000-student school will not convene in person during that time.
“These temporary measures will be inconvenient, even disruptive,” U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh said in a statement. “We will all have to operate in a different learning and working environment.” Loh said the university is canceling an event known as Maryland Day 2020. A decision on spring commencement scheduled for May, he said, “is pending.”
The announcement from the state flagship came as Maryland’s public university system and private universities in the region, including American University and Johns Hopkins University, are taking extraordinary steps to halt face-to-face teaching and learning, at least temporarily, while the spring semester moves toward a close.
The actions echoed similar steps colleges and universities are taking throughout the country in response to the public health emergency. Officials want to minimize chances the virus could travel through lecture halls and other student-packed venues.
For more than 170,000 students in the University System of Maryland, which includes the flagship, the return to schoolwork after spring break, which starts Saturday, is likely to be unusual. System Chancellor Jay A. Perman said in a statement he wants to keep students and employees safe.
“Therefore, I strongly urge every university to prepare for students to remain off campus — for at least two weeks — following the end of spring break,” Perman said. “During those two weeks or longer, all USM universities should be prepared to deliver instruction remotely.”
Towson University, in Baltimore County, which is part of the system, canceled classes for the rest of this week and said it will prepare for remote teaching, learning and working after its break.
“When preparing to leave for spring break, we ask students take all essential belongings, medications, and materials from your residence hall or work space in case it should become necessary to restrict return access to campus for at least two weeks,” Towson said in a statement.
Similar steps are occurring at several other public Maryland universities, system officials said.
At American University, where students are on break this week, Provost Daniel J. Myers told faculty the 14,000-student school will halt in-person teaching and use virtual classrooms with video conferencing and other tools. “Although we are moving instruction online, the university is currently remaining open and campus operations continue as normal,” Myers wrote in a letter co-signed with Deputy Provost Mary L. Clark.
Students at AU had been scheduled to return to classes next Monday. But Myers and Clark said the break will be extended two days to allow faculty time to prepare for teaching without the usual face-to-face lectures and seminars.
“Starting on March 18, all classes will need to be taught using distance methods through April 3. How exactly this can be done varies substantially by course and discipline, and your schools and colleges will be in touch with further guidance,” Myers and Clark wrote.
“In the meantime, all faculty members will need to ensure that the scaffolding is ready for their move to the online space. The sooner you can accomplish this, the better.”
Sylvia M. Burwell, AU’s president and a former secretary of health and human services under President Barack Obama, said in a statement on the university website: “While the risk to our community remains low at this time, this could change quickly. Our precautionary actions will help limit potential exposure to COVID-19 and enhance our ability to manage and/or isolate any suspected or confirmed cases that may occur at the university.
“A three-week period of online classes will reduce the number of people living in close proximity on our campus, limit interactions, and hopefully see reductions in the overall spread of COVID-19 in the country and the DC region.”
Covid-19 is the name for the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 647 cases of coronavirus in the United States, with 25 deaths caused by the disease. There have been at least 22 cases reported in Maryland, the District and Virginia.
Older people appear to be significantly more vulnerable to covid-19 than the younger population enrolled in college. But authorities worry about potential for the virus to spread on campuses that link local residents with visitors from throughout the nation and the world.
Schools from coast to coast, from Harvard University to the University of California at Berkeley, have announced major steps in recent days to curtail face-to-face instruction, wreaking havoc on academic routines several weeks before the spring graduation season.
Johns Hopkins, a major private research university in Baltimore, said in a statement that it will suspend in-person classes Wednesday and switch to remote instruction through at least April 12. George Washington University, in the District, said it will shift to online instruction from March 23 until at least April 5.
Late Tuesday afternoon, there was no immediate word from prominent D.C.-area schools such as Georgetown and George Mason universities on whether they would change their instructional plans.
Some colleges were hesitant to join the move toward online instruction. At Trinity Washington University, which enrolls about 1,000 women in its main undergraduate program, some students don’t have laptops or easy access to the Internet at home. The university in Northeast Washington serves a significant number of students from low-income areas of the city and Prince George’s County in Maryland.
“There’s a lot of collateral damage to a decision to go online,” said Trinity Washington President Patricia McGuire. “It’s not the preferred way for us to be teaching at all.” She said the school would carefully weigh its response to the outbreak. “Health is number one,” she said. “We don’t want to say, ‘You’ve got to finish your degree above all else.’ You’ve got to stay healthy above all else.”
McGuire said local universities have gained experience with teaching online in emergency situations in recent years following major snowstorms and other events that forced campus closures. “We could do that,” she said. “It’s not impossible for us at all.”
Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.