Ohio University started its Spring Semester with in-person classes while incorporating stricter COVID-19 policies to help slow the spread of the omicron variant.
President Hugh Sherman announced Jan. 5 that OU students would be able to return to campus for the start of the Spring Semester and continue to take in-person classes. On Jan. 9, he specified in a university-wide email that in-person classes would be prioritized.
Despite concerns across campus of rising cases due to the omicron variant, the availability of in-person classes was possible due to the high percentage of OU students who are vaccinated, Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said.
“Along with most public universities in the state, we made the decision to require vaccination for members of our community with the option for exemption,” Leatherwood said in an email. “We are thrilled that we have exceeded a 90 percent vaccination rate on our Athens campus, which, when combined with other public health measures that we have put into place, has allowed us to prioritize in-person learning, which has been our commitment to students and families.”
OU students and faculty have responded similarly to the prioritization of in-person classes. Though cautious of COVID-19 and especially aware of the omicron variant, many were relieved to learn they could return to a classroom, one way or another.
“It's kind of bittersweet because I was basically teaching online for almost two years from the time the pandemic struck, and I missed that interaction with the students. And I know the students, by and large, are burnt out of doing their college on a computer screen,” Charles Lester, a professor in the Honors Tutorial College, the Ohio Honors Program and the Cutler Scholars Program, said. “Part of me wants to be in the classroom, but I also obviously want to be safe, and I want my students to be safe.”
Although OU is continuing to offer classes in-person, online courses are still available to students.
Having the option of whether to take an online class is helpful, Olivia Patterson, a junior studying psychology pre-physical therapy, said. Patterson said she likes having the opportunity to choose which classes are taken online and in person rather than only being able to take online courses.
David Spielman, an undecided freshman, agreed with Patterson and said he’s more receptive to class material in an in-person environment.
“I'm happy that OU prioritized in-person classes,” Spielman said. “If you really were … nervous about online classes, it's nice that there was the option, but then it wasn't taking away from the in-person experience because I personally learn better that way.”
Class modalities are determined by department chairs, school directors and either associate deans or college curriculum coordinators, Cary Frith, chief of staff in the provost’s office, said.
Lester said professors in the Honors College were told of OU’s prioritization of in-person classes but did not receive a clear explanation as to why they were going to be prioritized during the Spring Semester. Within the Honors College, professors did not have the option to conduct their classes online, he said.
Sam Girton, a professor of visual communication, did not question OU’s choice to allow in-person classes and prepared his curriculum accordingly.
“Hands down, the quality of education is so much better face-to-face, and I prefer that method … but if the university or somebody says, ‘Hey, this isn't the way we should do it,’ I don't care (either way),” Girton said. “We did (online classes) previously, and I figured out how to make it happen.”
Leatherwood said the university is committed — first and foremost — to educating students and ensuring the health and safety of everyone in the university community as it continues to stand behind its commitment to in-person instruction.