Note: This story has been changed to reflect that USC Marshall called off in-person MBA and undergraduate classes July 3.
It’s looking more and more like business schools that planned hybrid approaches for their fall 2020 MBA classes were overly optimistic or mistakenly hopeful. The latest to change course amid a resurgence in local coronavirus cases is UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which announced to students and faculty Tuesday (August 18) that all MBA instruction will be virtual for the entire fall semester. The announcement follows a similar university-wide message by UNC’s chancellor and provost.
Also moving fully remote at UNC are all B-school undergraduate courses and all Master of Accounting courses. Kenan-Flagler’s Evening MBA and Weekend Executive MBA programs already were operating in a remote structure, and the school’s doctoral classes and online MBA@UNC will be unchanged, according to a message from Dean Doug Shackelford. UNC’s fall MBA classes are scheduled to begin September 4 and conclude December 17.
Like most of the top 100 B-schools in the United States, UNC Kenan-Flagler had planned to have some in-person classes this fall, though the proportions were unknown and expected to be determined by the prevalence of local cases of coronavirus. The decision to go fully remote was made after several cases of the coronavirus known as Covid-19 were reported on campus in recent days.
“As we have seen this past week, the volume of Covid clusters on campus are growing, threatening the health of those on campus and the community,” Shackelford wrote to the Kenan-Flagler students and faculty. “Despite the continuing challenges of Covid-19, our goals remain unchanged. We want to ensure the health and safety of our people, while continuing to provide exceptional teaching, research and service.”
4 CLUSTERS OF CORONAVIRUS CASES EMERGE ON CAMPUS IN 1 WEEK
UNC is not the first high-profile school to throw up its hands regarding in-person MBA classes this fall, nor is it the first to decide that there will not be a return to the physical classroom before spring. On July 3, USC’s Marshall School of Business became the first top-25 school to declare a fully online start to the fall with an announcement by Dean Geoff Garrett. “Under the principle of Safety First, we believe that at this time it is not possible for Marshall to assure a safe, healthy and uninterrupted in-person Fall semester experience,” Garrett wrote, adding that “we are confident that we will be able to provide you with the world-class USC educational experience you expect, albeit in a different delivery format.” USC’s first day of MBA classes was Monday. Other schools are holding out hope for in-person classes, at least officially. UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business announced July 21 that it will start the fall online; Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, following its university’s lead, announced the same July 29. Just two days later, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School declared it would begin the fall fully online as well, prompting widespread anger among students who felt the school had waited too long to make the announcement.
Two more schools, Notre Dame and Michigan State, announced Tuesday that on-campus undergraduate instruction has been temporarily suspended. Notre Dame’s move came as a result of a spike in infections.
At UNC, an August 17 editorial in the Daily Tar Heel called on the university to act after two clusters of coronavirus cases were reported Friday, August 14, at Granville Towers and Ehringhaus Residence Hall, followed by another cluster on Saturday at Sigma Nu fraternity house and a fourth on Sunday at Hinton James Residence Hall. According to a statement from UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Robert Blouin, in the week of August 10-16 the university saw the Covid-19 positivity rate rise from 2.8% to 13.6% at Campus Health. “As of this morning,” they wrote August 18, “we have tested 954 students and have 177 in isolation and 349 in quarantine, both on and off campus. So far, we have been fortunate that most students who have tested positive have demonstrated mild symptoms.”
The plan to have any amount of in-person instruction is simply untenable, Shackelford wrote.
“These are difficult times for all of us — global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and racial challenges,” he wrote. “If we continue to work together, we will emerge from this experience better people and a stronger community.
“I would be remiss if I did not note the extraordinary contributions of many over the last few months who worked tirelessly so we could have in-person instruction. They include faculty, program staff, IT, Facilities, and the Faculty Consulting Group, among others. I appreciate all you have done and I share your disappointment that these changes are needed.
“Please continue to behave responsibly: Wear masks, maintain six-feet distancing, wash your hands frequently, and don’t gather in large groups. Take care of yourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, and support each other.”
Shackelford added that Kenan-Flagler’s McColl Building and the Kenan Center will remain open for faculty and staff, signing off by urging all in the B-school community to “be kind, be compassionate, be safe.”
‘NO EASY ANSWERS’
Two weeks ago, UNC began welcoming students back into its residence halls, and a week later held its first day of class. “We knew this would be a Carolina fall like no other,” Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote, “and with our residence halls at less than 60% capacity and less than 30% of our total classroom seats taught in-person, we certainly began with a very different feel.”
But the explosion of cases shut down any notion of continuing in-person instruction, they wrote.
“Given the number of positive cases, we are making two important changes to de-densify our campus,” they wrote. “Effective Wednesday, August 19, all undergraduate in-person instruction will shift to remote learning. Courses in our graduate, professional, and health affairs schools will continue to be taught as they are, or as directed by the schools. Academic advising and academic support services will be available online. Our research enterprise will remain unchanged.
“Due to this announcement as well as the reduction of campus activities, we expect the majority of our current undergraduate residential students to change their residential plans for the fall. We are working to identify additional effective ways to further achieve de-densification of our residential halls and our campus facilities. We will, again, open the opportunity for fall 2020 residence hall cancellation requests with no penalty. Carolina Housing will notify our residents with additional information and changes in the coming days. Residents who have hardships (such as lack of access to reliable internet access), international students or student athletes will have the option to remain.
The decision to shut down in-person classes was made it in consultation with state and local health officials, Carolina’s infectious disease experts, and the UNC System, Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote. “We know that these trends aren’t just affecting our campus: they have escalated the concerns of our neighbors, co-workers and friends in and around the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities. The health and well-being of the good people of our greater Carolina community are just as important to us as that of our students, faculty and staff. We will continue to work closely with our local town/gown partners to create a stronger framework of adherence to our Community Standards among our off-campus students, coupled with education and enforcement of appropriate local ordinances.”
UNC System President Peter Hans added: “There are no easy answers as the nation navigates through the pandemic. At this point we haven’t received any information that would lead to similar modifications at any of our other universities. Whether at Chapel Hill or another institution, students must continue to wear facial coverings and maintain social distancing, as their personal responsibility, particularly in off-campus settings, is critical to the success of this semester and to protect public health.”