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Conoley confirms chancellor’s announcement, CSULB to continue virtual delivery through spring 2021

President Jane Close Conoley confirmed in a campus-wide email Thursday that Long Beach State will remain virtual for the spring 2021 semester, in line with all California State University campuses. 

“I’m disappointed. Of course I keep hoping that we’ll all get back together but I know in my mind and my heart that it is the right thing,” Conoley said. “I think like everybody else was hoping that [the virus] would be gone by now.”

In an earlier announcement on Thursday, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said all 23 campuses in the system will continue with online instruction in the spring, after deciding that the current status of the coronavirus proves to be too unpredictable.

“After extensive consultation with campus presidents and other stakeholders, and careful consideration of a multitude of factors – regarding the pandemic and its consequences, as well as other matters impacting the university and its operations – I am announcing that the CSU will continue with this primarily virtual instructional approach for the academic term that begins in January 2021, and also will continue with reduced populations in campus housing,” White said in the statement

According to Conoley, the plans to remain virtual for the spring semester had been discussed last Tuesday in a meeting with White, his vice chancellors and all the CSU presidents. Concerns were raised regarding a rise in coronavirus cases at campuses such as California State University Chico and San Diego State University.

“We ended that call last Tuesday, saying, ‘Okay, we get it, we can see the writings on the wall,’” Conoley said. 

According to Conoley, the chancellor has been in discussions with “the top epidemiologists in the state” to keep up-to-date with the status of the virus and have predicted two more surges of COVID-19 cases, one this fall and another around March of next year. 

Provost Brian Jerksy projects, Conoley said, that the spring semester may see a slight increase in the number of face-to-face courses available depending on how the virus progresses. Clubs may also get the chance to meet on campus, depending on guidance from health officials. 

Conoley said she hopes this projection will become a reality while the campus community grows more accustomed to remote learning.

“The bottom line is our shared decision-making must be guided by prevailing public health guidelines,” Conoley said in her campus-wide email.

Commencement for the class of 2020 had been postponed in May over concerns of potential dangers of spreading the virus among graduates’ guests and the Long Beach community. Initially, the class of 2020 was set to walk alongside the class of 2021, but since the chancellor’s announcement, those plans may not come to fruition.

“Your guess is probably as good as mine,” Conoley said. “Does anybody want to graduate like they’re playing baseball with nobody in the stands? I don’t know.”

An official decision regarding commencement will be made come Dec. 1, Conoley said. There will be consultations and questionnaires surveying the student body, she said, on whether they would be open to an in-person ceremony but with no guests. 

CSULB initially made the move to virtual instruction in March after guidance from local and state health officials.

While there have only been 71 cases associated with the campus since March, the city of Long Beach has had 11,088 cases as of Sept. 9. 

Conoley said she predicts that there will be some kind of outbreak of COVID-19 on campus, but is certain the university can handle it without having to shut down.

“My hope is to get through the fall without any major outbreaks,” Conoley said. “Although, you know, I’m trying to be realistic about that. I [did] not want us to go into this thinking, ‘Well, we can always close in October.’ You know, that’s unfair. It’s so unfair to do that.”

She feels that positive cases are unavoidable, but quarantining students would allow for the campus to refrain from drastically opening and closing on a repeated basis as other schools have. 

Professors have implemented new teaching methods and activities to engage their students amid a virtual learning environment, and Conoley feels this is a good sign for how the spring semester may operate. 

“I’ve been reading about faculty who are doing really unique and creative things with their remote classes, and I’m really encouraged by that,” she said. “People are trying to, you know, not just have Zoom meetings all the time or [say], ‘here’s the PowerPoint, learn it.’ I hope that continues.”

Conoley said she hopes for a vaccine “that we know will keep people safe.”

Along with the Student Health Center, campus administrators are working closely with health officials to determine whether CSULB will be able to offer rapid COVID-19 testing for students, if deemed economically feasible.

Due to the high demand for rapid testing, tests cost roughly $100 each, and ideally students would be tested more than once a week to stay on top of potential outbreaks, Conoley said. This means, if every CSULB student was tested according to guidelines, the school would have to invest roughly $10 million per week into this method. 

The students most likely to receive this form of testing, according to Conoley, include on-campus residents, students coming to face-to-face classes and student athletes. 

In April, the school received a total of $41.7 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, with $21 million set aside to assist students.  

The remaining amount is set aside for “institutional purposes,” Conoley said, that can be used to pay for students’ testing. 

“One of my concerns is that, you know, we needed to tell students pretty early. When we thought about how and how unsettling it would be to get the information just a week before the semester, it seemed like it was worth telling them,” Conoley said. “With some of these other universities, students came back [to campus], and then they were sent home within a week. Understandably, the students are saying, ‘Well, why did you bring me back if you didn’t think you could, you know, keep the place safe?’’

Despite this setback, Conoley remains hopeful for a successful spring semester. 

“What’s the path that people don’t have to lose their jobs and their livelihoods, their savings and everything?” Conoley said. “On the economic side, is there a way to safely operate more businesses? So that’s part of our goal is figure out a way that we can manage.”  

Madalyn Amato, editor in chief, contributed to this article. 

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