USC announced Sept. 14 via a mass email to students and faculty that online-only instruction will continue through the fall semester, leaving students and faculty to wonder if an in-person spring semester remains possible.
The university petitioned for limited on-campus activity but admitted they were not hopeful that their request would be approved, according to the email. All on and off-campus events remain prohibited and most access to indoor spaces on campus is still restricted. On-campus housing remains open only to those with no other housing alternatives.
“While disappointing, we are fully committed to protecting the health and safety of our community and will follow the public health guidelines as a matter of obligation and with appreciation for the underlying science driving these decisions,” USC President Carol Folt said in the email. The email said the administration will continue to update students as the spring semester approaches.
Howard Greenwald, professor of health and public policy, said he believes in-person learning will not return in the spring semester.
“There’s certainly not going to be a full restoration of face-to-face teaching in the spring. I don’t see how it could be justified,” said Greenwald. “But people want face-to-face instruction, and they’re paying for it. So there will be pressure to open up that means of providing the education that people deserve and expect.”
Dr. Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer of USC Student Health, said the health protocols in place at USC will see little change in the spring.
“We feel that we have an obligation to continue to protect students to the degree that we can, whether they’re living on campus or off,” Van Orman told Annenberg Media during a Zoom interview.
Van Orman said the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health remains most concerned about the ability of young people with minimal symptoms to rapidly spread COVID-19 in neighboring communities.
“I think what we’ve seen both at USC, as well as at institutions across the country, is that when we have high levels of disease in the community, like we still have in L.A., when institutions come back in person, it’s explosive growth,” said Van Orman. “It’s explosive growth that impacts getting not only those students, but it also impacts the community in which that university sits.”
Sophia Clements, a sophomore majoring in astronautical engineering, said the online learning environment has greatly affected lecture dynamics, making learning harder overall.
“A lot of people are discouraged from asking the questions that they would,” said Clements. “And then it’s harder to understand the material that we need to know to build off within the future.”
For Alyssa Delarosa, a junior transfer student, the announcement of an online fall semester came as no shock, though she said the Zoom semester is far from ideal.
“[Professors are] struggling. And because they’re struggling, it kind of trickles downwards to where we struggle as well,” said Delarosa. “So it’s definitely not ideal that we’re in this situation. But at this point, we don’t have any other choice.”
Despite a fall semester full of technical difficulties, Delarosa has already decided to accept that the spring semester will likely be remote.
“I have already made up my mind that spring is going to be remote,” said the psychology major. “I really doubt that we’re going to be back as a student body in the spring.”
While Van Orman acknowledged the effort students put into distance learning, she stressed that those in public health know the importance of in-person learning.
“We are really committed as a university to push forward with an in-person or a hybrid spring. That’s our goal,” said Van Orman. “But we also know that ultimately what happens in the spring depends on local public health conditions.”
While Clements said she’s discouraged by some universities announcing they will remain online next semester, such as all 23 campuses in the California State University system, she hopes USC will welcome students back in the spring.
“I’m really hoping that we can get back into a classroom soon,” said Clements. “I feel like socially and mentally and even physically, a lot of students are just getting exhausted.”