Nearly a dozen Texas universities announced Wednesday they would extend students' spring breaks and start switching to online classes, joining a swelling group of colleges across the country taking steps to prepare their campuses for the novel coronavirus.
Most Texas institutions extending their breaks said they plan to use the extra time to prepare faculty for teaching online. Many have canceled events, prohibited large gatherings, stepped up their sanitation measures and restricted university-sponsored travel.
Some cited the unique challenges universities face in managing contagious disease, particularly in the face of an upcoming break.
Trinity University is transitioning to remote teaching for the remainder of the spring semester and permanently closing residence halls beginning Monday. Students will be reimbursed for their housing, the university said. Those who can't return to a permanent residence can apply for an exemption — though "many on-campus services may be significantly limited." All university athletics events after March 22 will be canceled for the rest of the semester.
“We believe that making this decision now will provide the most orderly transition and protect our Trinity family from potential exposure to the virus, especially since many of us have traveled far and wide over spring break," a letter from Trinity President Danny J. Anderson said. "Experts tell us that this illness has the potential to spread quickly, and social distancing appears to be one of the most effective ways to slow the virus’s advance,” the letter said.
There are no known cases of the disease at Trinity, in San Antonio.
University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin is extending students' spring break by one week to allow “faculty and staff members time to prepare to increase ‘social distancing’ on campus.” This could include shifting lectures to online instruction or changing practices in shared spaces like dining halls and libraries to “reduce unnecessary contact and promote better personal hygiene," according to a letter from UT-Austin President Greg Fenves.
Students who want to return to the Austin campus as previously scheduled, on March 23, will be able to do so, and regular services like dining halls will be open.
The university's home sporting events will also be played without fans in attendance through March 22. Its athletics teams will continue to "travel to road competitions as scheduled at this time," according to its website.
University of Houston
The University of Houston has canceled classes for the week of March 16 and will begin hosting them remotely starting March 23. Students have been asked to stay home, though university housing and dining services will be “open for student residents who need it.”
“Sanitization and hygiene protocols will be escalated,” the university’s website says. Faculty and staff are permitted to work from home if they are able to perform their jobs remotely.
Baylor University President Linda Livingstone announced that spring break will be extended one week and classes will be provided exclusively online for two weeks after, from March 23 to April 3.
Residence halls and designated dining facilities will be open during the next three weeks, but the university has asked students to "determine whether their campus or permanent residence is safest."
There are no reported coronavirus cases at Baylor.
Prairie View A&M University
Prairie View A&M University will suspend classes until March 23, and students are "encouraged" to remain off campus during that time. Faculty will spend the week of March 16 undergoing training on remote-learning platforms.
Texas A&M University-San Antonio
Texas A&M University-San Antonio extended its spring break through March 22 and said classes will be delivered online for at least one week after. School officials will determine if remote instruction should continue, and faculty and staff will spend the extended break preparing for it.
The campus will remain open and operating normally. Students who live on campus will still be able to return as planned, according to a press release.
However, the university will also temporarily cancel large gatherings and events, limit university-sponsored travel, and prepare employees for working remotely.
University of Texas at San Antonio
The University of Texas at San Antonio, which is extending its spring break through the week of March 15, is using the extra time to "prepare its campuses against the threat of coronavirus while ensuring the academic progress of its students,” according to its website. Campuses will remain open during the extended break and after.
When classes resume March 23, they will be taught online until at least April 13.
“During that time, students are encouraged to stay at home if possible,” the website reads. “The university recognizes, however, that campus housing is the home to many students and they are welcome to return.”
The university will also be using “social distancing practices” for gatherings of over 50 people, and individuals are expected to keep a distance of at least three feet and practice good hygiene.
Event organizers will be advised to cancel, postpone or conduct events virtually.
“Our foremost priorities are to sustain the health of our campus community and ensure the academic progress of our students,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy. “While there is still a lot we don’t know about the coronavirus, it is expected to spread broadly in the days ahead and we are making these changes now, before we see any impact on our campuses.”
Texas Christian University
Texas Christian University is extending spring break through March 20 and will move to online classes for the two weeks that follow. Students already away from the campus for break have been asked not to return until given further instructions.
Large meetings and on-campus events are canceled through April 3, and university-related international travel and nonessential domestic travel are suspended at least until the end of the month.
“TCU’s highest priority is the health and well-being of our community, and these measures are being put in place to secure that as best we can,” Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. said. “We have a responsibility to each other, our campus and the greater community to help ensure good health, decrease the potential impacts of COVID-19, and to prevent its exposure to vulnerable populations.”
Alamo Colleges District
The Alamo Colleges District is extending students’ spring break to March 20, and campus buildings will be closed that week except for libraries and computer labs. Classes will resume March 23 but will be taught remotely.
Southwestern University in Georgetown is adding two days to students' spring breaks and urging them to remain off campus during that time. Classes will resume March 25.
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University — whose students are on spring break this week — announced Tuesday it would delay resuming classes for two days after students return next Monday.
The decision will "allow for planning and logistics to ensure the provision of all university services," the school said in a message from the provost posted online. "There are no plans at this time to cancel future classes."
Rice University, which has had one confirmed case of the virus in an employee, canceled classes this week but plans to resume instruction after spring break, "barring any further complications.
Like other higher education institutions, Rice is preparing to deliver courses remotely.
"U.S. public health officials are now describing an evolving focus from containment to mitigation of COVID-19. This has implications for how we proceed," Rice said in an alert last night. "One of the main tools in a mitigation strategy is social distancing. We are pursuing numerous social distancing strategies, such as restricting large gatherings, planning for remote course delivery and offering accommodations for at-risk individuals."
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, Prairie View A&M University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas Christian University, the Alamo Colleges District, Texas A&M University, Baylor University and Rice University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.