By: Caitlyn Freeman, Contributing Writer
Screenshot by Meghan Hudson/ The Towerlight
A group of University staff members and one SGA member make up the “ReTUrn to TU Task Force” and have been tasked with creating a plan on how to reopen campus for the upcoming academic year, according to an April 20 email letter sent from TU President Kim Schatzel to the Towson community.
“This group is charged with developing an effective public health and operations plan for Towson University that charts a path to the safe reopening of campus and return to classes for the 2020–21 academic year,” Schatzel said in the email. Schatzel emphasized that the university continues to proceed with plans for students and faculty to return to on-campus learning with caution and explained that the university will continue to “comply with all state and federal COVID-19 directives.”
According to Sean Welsh, Associate Vice President of Communications and Media, officials within the task force are considering the necessary steps that would lead to a return to on-campus learning for the fall 2020 semester.
“TU is looking forward to returning to normal operations, and welcoming all of our new and returning students, faculty, and staff to campus this fall, provided that federal and state guidance lifts the current social distancing restrictions related to COVID-19″ he said.
Freshman Christopher Yancey said that he believes that the campus will not be ready for members of the TU community to return in the fall because of reports he’s heard saying a second outbreak of COVID could occur in the fall.
“We need to wait and see until spring semester next year,” he said. “This is going to be a problem. I have like mixed feelings. On one hand, I want to see my friends again. On the other hand, people might get really sick and people might die.”
But freshman Imani Greene had a positive reaction to Schatzel’s news.
“I found myself smiling at the message,” Greene said. “In spite of these unfortunate circumstances, President Schatzel found a way to give us hope.”
Mubina Kirmani, an early childhood education professor at TU, also responded positively to Schatzel’s announcement.
“It’s good to know that President Schatzel is paying attention to the state and federal experts in the scientific community and also taking the lead from Governor Hogan to take necessary public health measures for containing and mitigating COVID-19 and planning for recovery and reopening of TU campus,” Kirmani said.
It is also explained in the email that the task force consists of two committees: Academic and Student Readiness Committee and the Campus Readiness Committee.
According to Welsh, the Academic and Student Readiness Committee, which is being co-chaired by Provost Melanie Perreault and Vice President for Student Affairs Vernon Hurte, is focused on getting students and faculty back into classrooms.
As Welsh explained, the Campus Readiness Committee, led by Sara Slaff, general counsel and vice president for legal affairs, and Steve Jones, associate vice president for human resources, is primarily focused on physically preparing the campus for the anticipated return to campus.
“We need the physical campus to be ready. We need it to be clean,” he said. Welsh also explained that the committee will be tasked with preparing for people to return to on-campus learning with possible social-distancing restrictions posed by the University System of Maryland (USM) or the state government.
“So the one task force in terms of campus readiness would potentially look at the physical campus, and what changes need to be done with the physical campus or what accommodations need to be made,” he said. “If [USM or state officials] say, ‘residential buildings are going to go through certain recommendations,’ then we need to consider that.”
In an April 27 email update on the task force, Schatzel announced who within the TU community would serve as members of the committees. Alongside university officials, Schatzel’s task force will also have a member of the Student Government Association who will serve on the Academic Readiness Committee, once this person is elected into the position.
“The work of the committees will begin immediately and continue into the fall semester as plans are developed and implemented,” Schatzel said.
Welsh explained that he didn’t know if non-university employees, including USM officials, will be included on the committees.
Kirmani said she believes that the committees should address issues including the “density of student gatherings in classrooms, student residential dorms, cafeteria, book store, library and student social gatherings,” and “interactions between students and the older faculty and staff who may be vulnerable to the virus,” before students and faculty return to on-campus learning.
According to Kirmani, she also anticipates that once on-campus learning resumes, members of the TU community will be required to wear masks and other protective gear.
Echoing Kirmani’s concerns, Greene said that proper sanitation needs to be a priority in order for students and faculty to feel “comfortable” with returning to campus.
Yancy said that the return to campus could be “slow,” and challenges for students may occur after this period of at-home learning.
“There will be a lot of time missed,” he said. “Some people will be falling behind, which is also very bad.” Yancy attributes this to the possible lack of proper resources and stressful home lives.
Yancy also said that before people return to campus, they should be tested for possible COVID-19 antibodies and that in the case a student contracts the virus, the university should be able to access information about the previous whereabouts of said student in order to pinpoint its origin.
Welsh explained that while he refuses to speculate, he anticipates the ReTUrn to TU task force will remain “as long as necessary.” He also stated that the University has a pandemic task force that had been developed before the COVID-19 outbreak.
“[The pandemic task force is] one of the many groups that’s had a say or has been tasked with handling different aspects of COVID-19,” Welsh said. He said that the pandemic task force is composed of about 30 people from various sections of the university, including himself.
Welsh also said that he believes that the task force will serve as a reference point for COVID-based communications and decisions that will come in the coming weeks and months.
“I think they’re going to have a pretty significant role and kind of all the next steps for us as we try to get everybody back to campus again,” Welsh said.