After a recommendation from Dean Colson, Chair of Florida International University’s board of trustees, FIU is transitioning to a full, in-person return starting this month.
The recommendation, which the rest of the trustees did not vote on but did not oppose, strongly encouraged FIU administration to further reopen campus by May. The recommendation was motivated in part by pressure from the Florida Board of Governors, which manages Florida’s 12 public universities. The Board has expressed that they want all universities to reopen.
The transition began in mid-February, when FIU President Mark Rosenberg requested that employees capable of physically distancing come to campus at least three days of the week. Another push for repopulation came on Mar. 1, when faculty and staff who had individual offices were again asked to come back to campus, but this time, every day. (Those who work in an open-plan environment or a cubicle were told that they can remain at home two days per week). Students still have the option to learn online.
“After much deliberation, the Repopulation Task Force announced that repopulating FIU campuses would help faculty, staff and students rebuild a sense of community and demonstrate prudence in navigating our new normal,” Associate Director of Development at FIU Law Jasmin Grant said. “They have indicated that the desired outcome is to obtain a thriving, but safe, sense of normalcy on campus. “
However, the announcement does not apply to many faculty members, as over a third of FIU faculty (between 500 and 600 of 1,400 faculty members) have attested, according to the Miami Herald. This was part of an agreement between the United Faculty of Florida union at FIU and FIU administration, and promised faculty that they would not have to return if they attested that they are either high-risk, or they care for someone in that category. Staff members do not have the option to attest, meaning that the majority of people who must return to campus are support staff, rather than actual professors.
Come summer, however, the attestment agreement no longer stands, so faculty members may have to come in, and the university has already said they want a greater number of summer courses taught in-person rather than online.
The repopulation decision has met controversy, with some community members — including a few trustees — arguing that it seems more beneficial to wait until the fall semester and avoid what feels like a rushed reopening, especially given that the majority of the population remains unvaccinated and Miami-Dade is still the epicenter of Florida COVID cases. Others argue that reopening has already been delayed and this is the first step in getting students back in the classroom.
“There have been mixed responses to the university’s repopulation plan. Some feel it was time to come back and are looking forward to the structure that comes with working out of an office every day, while others are frustrated with the decision and feel it is too soon to repopulate,” Grant said.
FIU has noted that they have implemented extensive safety precautions in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, including plenty of testing, contact tracing, social distancing, mandating of face masks and the use of Panthers Protecting Panthers, a symptom questionnaire and communication app.