A few hundred students are back on the Texas Tech campus this week for the first time since March. The second summer session is kind of a trial run.
“It’s going to give us a chance to test some of the policies and practices we will be implementing in the fall,” said University President Lawrence Schovanec.
The school is still figuring out what the college experience looks like during a pandemic.
In March, around spring break when COVID-19 hit Lubbock, the campus shut down and switched all classes to online for the second half of the semester.
About two-thirds of fall courses will be face-to-face or a hybrid format.
“Which might mean, say," Schovanec explained, "a Tuesday Thursday class. One day you’re in the classroom. The other day you’re taking a lecture online."
Students, staff and faculty are required to wear a face mask while on campus, in communal spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. The university announced the mask mandate in June, before a statewide order went into effect.
Other precautions include reduced classroom capacity and more hand sanitizer stations throughout campus. Some more specific details, like having one-way entrances and exits, will be hammered out soon.
“Our policies are fairly well-defined at this point," Schovanec said. "But we have been in discussions of what would we do if the number of cases became so large that we have to modify our plans.”
Sarah Karda graduated this spring and will start in a graduate program at Texas Tech this fall. Her senior year didn’t end how she expected it to, so she’s looking forward to another chance to end college more on her terms.
Right now, two of Karda's fall classes are online and two are in-person. She hopes it stays that way.
“For me, I’m going to be there and I’m going to be paying for it, to be there," she said. "I just learn better with in-person teaching. I’d rather, you know, the professor go through the material with me. And also just have a relationship with my professor.”
Senior management major Zach Low has four classes left to graduate. Three will be online and one will be a hybrid format. Low’s taken an online course every semester of college and likes them.
“I find myself more accountable for the information when I do take online classes," Low said, "just because if I don’t learn I’m not going to learn it and I’m not going to be able to pass the course.”
Schovanec said college is more than what you learn in class. It’s the connections you make, with mentors and peers. Not returning for at least some in-person interaction seems unfair.
“That denies students the full benefit of the collegiate experience," the university president said. "I’ve heard that. From many, many parents, many, many students. That they come to Tech, in part, because of its culture. And that culture is based on personal interaction.”
Which on-campus student activities return is still up in the air. State rules capping gatherings at 10 people is limiting for social and professional groups. And fall sports are still in question.
But those are just the activities the university has some control over.
Low, who’s a Lubbock local, is a little nervous about the influx of students coming back in a few weeks.
“My initial gut reaction is kind of just like this is going to be absolutely terrible,” Low said.
Some of his friends had to be tested for COVID-19 after bar hopping in Lubbock. He emphasized that was just in his immediate social group.
An uptick of diagnoses in June was traced back to an outbreak of people between 18-25 who were going to bars and socializing. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott closed bars again with no reopening date.
Based on what happened last month, though, Low still thinks a repeat of the spring semester could happen. He hopes he's wrong, but he also thinks he's being realistic.
“I just see it all kind of circling back to what’s already happened with the shut down and completely online based," Low said. "I do not think it’s going to go well at all.”
Schovanec is more optimistic.
“I don’t think it’d be well received if I drive around and go into the bars and tell them to get out of there," he said with a laugh. "I don’t intend to do that.”
He thinks students want to be on campus and will do what it takes to make it happen. The cluster of cases in 18-25-year-olds was concerning, he says, but they weren’t all Texas Tech students. He thinks the students have an incentive to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. And will rise to the occasion.
“They don’t want this place shut down," Schovanec said. "We cannot control what they do off campus. We can point out the obvious. They’re intelligent, they already know that. In order to deal with that, the leadership will have to come from within.”
The fall 2020 semester starts August 24. To learn more about the university's plans to reopen, visit the Texas Tech Commitment website.