While the University of Notre Dame plans on reopening its campus in the fall, the semester will look quite different compared to years past. Extensive testing, social distancing measures and a shortened semester are all apart of the university’s plan to reopen, the university’s president Father John Jenkins said in an interview with the TODAY Show Tuesday morning.
Jenkins told TODAY Show host Savannah Guthrie that he believes the university can reach its goal of reopening by August. He said that while he “doesn’t have all the details yet,” he believes that with a “robust plan” the school will be able to keep students safe. On Monday, Notre Dame became one of the first major U.S. universities to announce that it would resume in-person classes in the fall after the coronavirus pandemic unexpectedly closed campuses around the world.
The private Catholic university — which has a total enrollment of over 12,500 — will shift its schedule so students finish classes by Thanksgiving, meaning they won’t travel home for the holiday and return to campus. Instead, classes will begin two weeks earlier on Aug. 10 and forego the school’s usual fall break in October.
When asked by Guthrie for the thinking behind their plan, Jenkins said medical experts have warned the school that it could be dangerous to bring students back together after they’ve scattered across the world for the Thanksgiving holiday. “They’e going to bring back pathogens,” he said.
“If you can get them here, test them, you know, have a healthy community and then don’t send them away until the semester’s over, you’re much more likely to control the spread of any infections and to have a healthy campus,” he continued.
Notre Dame’s decision to reopen campus comes just a week after the California State University system — the largest in the U.S. with almost 500,000 students — announced that it would not reopen its 23 campuses in the fall and instead conduct the semester entirely online. Once the coronavirus pandemic shuttered campuses in late spring, most U.S. universities finished their semesters by shifting their classes to online formats.
When asked if students on Notre Dame’s South Bend, Ind., campus would be banned from visiting home or going on weekend road trips, Jenkins said that the school hasn’t “gone that far.”
“What we’re going to do is talk to the students. I find young people, if it’s important and they believe in it, they step up and they challenge one and other to step up. And I believe that’s what’s going to happen,” Jenkins said. “They want to be back on campus… to achieve that goal, I think they’re going to work with us.”
Guthrie also asked Jenkins what had made him “feel confident he could pull this off.” Jenkins responded that “what [the school] needed was a target to move forward.”
“Obviously there are circumstances we can’t control, if there’s a dramatic outbreak of [coronavirus] again then we’ll have to adopt and change,” he said. “But we wanted to set a goal.”
Jenkins also said he expects day-to-day life on campus to include “extensive testing,” which will be a “critical component of making the campus safe.” He said that masks, social distancing and quarantining will also be a component of campus life.
In its announcement on Monday, Notre Dame also said that “contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, social distancing and mask requirements, and enhanced cleaning of all campus spaces” will all be a part of university’s plan to reopen. The university has also said it’s set aside facilities where students who have tested positive for coronavirus can isolate.
Furthermore, university faculty have been asked to prepare fall courses with “two distinct periods of equal length to allow for a smoother transition,” in case the semester must begin later or end earlier depending on the state of the pandemic, per Monday’s announcement. Faculty have also been instructed to prepare for the possibility of offering their courses remotely, so students in isolation can continue their studies.
When asked if the university’s famed football team might resume playing in the fall, Jenkins told Guthrie that the administration’s “primary focus has been our educational mission” but they will also discuss athletics.
“It’s not just our decision. It’s a decision of all institutions in Division 1 across the nation,” he explained. “We’re going to talk to them and we’ll see what is safe and what is possible.”
“I hope we’ll have sports. I hope we’ll have football,” he added. “We’ll just have to see.”