Georgia universities preparing for full operations this fall

Georgia State fans celebrate a victory after the Georgia State University vs. Georgia Southern University football game on Saturday, November 28, 2020, at Georgia State University Stadium in Atlanta. Georgia State defeated Georgia Southern 30-24. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Georgia State fans celebrate a victory after the Georgia State University vs. Georgia Southern University football game on Saturday, November 28, 2020, at Georgia State University Stadium in Atlanta. Georgia State defeated Georgia Southern 30-24. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Several public universities in Georgia are discussing plans for a full return to classes and campus living for the fall semester, anticipating their campuses will be safer for students and employees because of expanded availability to the COVID-19 vaccine.

“(The availability) should allow us to resume normal operations in the Fall Semester, including a return to full in-person instruction, full capacity in our residence halls and dining facilities, and regular operations for other campus services,” University of Georgia officials said in a message Wednesday to students, employees and faculty. “All research and public service operations are also expected to resume regular activities no later than Fall 2021.”

Georgia State University President Mark Becker wrote Wednesday it plans to have “a full complement of in-person classes” and “a fully populated residential community and campuses that provide the usual student services, activities, events and recreational opportunities.”

Georgia Tech students masked up and enjoyed a warm day near the Albert Einstein monument on the Georgia Tech campus on Monday, August 10, 2020, the first full day of the semester. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Georgia Tech students masked up and enjoyed a warm day near the Albert Einstein monument on the Georgia Tech campus on Monday, August 10, 2020, the first full day of the semester. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera told parents the school is preparing for “full operations and a complete residential experience for our students this fall.”

The messages from the Georgia universities included few additional details about the fall plans. They note the plans could change and that students and employees should continue to follow campus guidelines concerning social distancing.

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President Joe Biden said earlier this week he hopes to have enough vaccine for all American adults by the end of May. The fall semester for University System of Georgia schools typically begins in early August.

University System leaders said after recent discussions with state health officials they asked all campuses to plan for resuming normal operations for the fall semester. System spokesman Aaron Diamant said they will continue to consult with those officials in the coming months.

Students and faculty members wait in line at the COVID Surveillance Asymptomatic Testing center at Legion Field as the University of Georgia started classes for the fall semester on Thursday, August 20, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Students and faculty members wait in line at the COVID Surveillance Asymptomatic Testing center at Legion Field as the University of Georgia started classes for the fall semester on Thursday, August 20, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

University System leaders pushed for its schools to reopen for the fall semester, citing emails they received from students and parents saying they want to be on campus and data showing students on campus perform better academically. Faculty members have been more critical about in-person instruction, worried not enough COVID-19 testing was being done or offered. They also want the System to allow employees to work remotely without requiring various forms of administrative approval to do so.

University of North Georgia professor Matt Boedy, who is Georgia conference president of the American Association of University Professors, suggested the schools are discussing fall plans as “a selling point” to prospective students. He said the key for fall return plans will be vigilance and expanding vaccine eligibility now to college employees. The United Campus Workers of Georgia, a union of system staffers, echoed those demands Wednesday.

Georgia is expanding vaccine eligibility to teachers on March 8, but professors and others in the state’s higher education system are not in that expansion.

Richelle Brown, 39, a University of North Georgia graduate student who is a member of the organization, said she wants to see more data about infection rates from classroom settings before supporting the system’s fall plans. She also believes more planning is needed with the input of system employees.

“It seems like we’re jumping the gun a little bit,” Brown said.

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