Sonoma State University to keep most classes online during fall semester
Sonoma State University will continue classes online in the fall semester as part of an extension of distance learning California State University Chancellor Tim White announced Tuesday that will essentially keep campuses of all 23 state schools closed through the end of 2020.
The decision to stick with virtual instruction as the main way to teach about 480,000 students at the nation’s largest four-year university system provides another sign of the tremendous, persisting effect of the coronavirus pandemic on higher education while Sonoma County and other parts of the state slowly reopen public life.
“It truly is unprecedented,” Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki said in an interview. “We’ve been following the science and the health issues and the sense is this is the responsible thing to do, looking out for the health and safety of our campus.”
During an online meeting of the Cal State board of trustees, White said the decision to adopt a digital-first approach allows individual campuses more flexibility than reopening with a possible second shutdown looming should another devastating wave of coronavirus cases occur in the fall.
It also would be difficult to cover the costs incurred from keeping campuses clean and providing classroom instruction with every student 6 feet apart, he said, in delivering the message on behalf of what’s believed to be the first big university in America planning to keep campuses closed for the rest of the year.
There will be exceptions for in-person classes that can’t be replicated virtually and could be held safely on campus, White said. He pointed to hands-on clinical classes, essential physical and life science lab courses, creative arts and senior capstone projects as examples.
SSU may be able to host more campus activities than other state universities based on low infection rates in the community and the ability to socially distance on a 269-acre Rohnert Park campus that typically has 9,000 students. More than 2,000 students already have paid their deposits for the fall semester, Sakaki said.
Students accepted to a Cal State school have until June 1 to decide whether they will enroll in the fall, and so Sakaki said “it’s too early to tell” if primarily offering classes online will cause a drop in enrollment or fewer students living on campus. In normal times, about one-third of students live in on-campus housing at SSU.
“The question is would they choose to move up here,” she said. “Some may, but it’s going to be a small number. We’re not going to be filled as we would in previous years. It’s sad because we know how much students look forward to that (campus) experience.”
The SSU leader said she expects to have a clearer vision of how the fall semester will look by the end of the month. Two groups of faculty, staff and students have been studying how academics and campus operations would continue in a full semester of distance learning. The university plans to use a portion of its emergency federal relief funding to cover professional development in the coming months for teachers continuing to adapt and improve virtual classes, Sakaki said.
SSU suspended classroom instruction and closed its campus March 12 in the early part of the local COVID-19 outbreak. Later it had extended remote learning through the end of the spring semester.