The Delta Variant Is Forcing Some B-Schools To Change Fall Plans

The pandemic has had a big impact on this year’s graduating class of MBAs all over the world

With one-third of all new COVID-19 cases now in Texas and Florida, the Delta variant of the virus is forcing business schools to alter their fall schedules.

Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business in Houston is shifting classes online for the first two weeks of the semester and is pushing back the start of classes by two days to Aug. 25. Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business in Dallas will now require masks indoors on campus, including classrooms, event and meeting spaces, and common areas in all buildings and residence halls regardless of vaccination status. And the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business in Austin is moving some classes completely online until Sept. 17 while other classes are going hybrid with once-a-week sessions in person with the remainder to be taken remotely.

In Florida, the University of Florida is expecting, but not requiring or mandating, the use of masks indoors for everyone whether they are vaccinated or not. The school also is strongly encouraging–though not yet requiring–all students to get vaccines. “If you are not vaccinated, get vaccinated,” according to an Aug. 6th email signed by a half dozen of the university’s top administrators. “If possible, students should aim to be fully vaccinated but if unable, should strive to have at least one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine no later than August 22.”


COVID positivity rate going up on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin

With the delta variant spreading as students start returning to campus, schools are being confronted with a third academic year of disruption after they had planned for a more normal fall. Only a month earlier, a Poets&Quants survey of fall plans at the top 100 ranked U.S. schools and several from Europe found that all expected to open for in-person instruction. While most still are not demanding that students be vaccinated, many are — including nearly all the top-25 schools — and every school strongly encouraged it.

Already, there have been COVID clusters discovered at several schools, including Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business which was forced to make the final two days of its fall orientation for first year students virtual on Aug. 19th. A message from the Dean’s Office indicated that an Aug. 19th Tuck Tails event also was postponed and that Tuck is “closely monitoring” the case count to make a decision on the format of the first week of classes which begin this week. According to the college’s COVID dashboard, since Aug. 17, Dartmouth identified two clusters of COVID-19 cases in the student population. On Aug. 19, it was determined that these two clusters are linked and form one cluster of at least 10 individuals. The cases are “occurring despite vaccination,” according to the dean’s message. In fact, Dartmouth reports that 85% of its students, faculty and staff are fully vaccinated as of Aug. 20th.

The abrupt change in plans, however, is most obviously in Texas and Florida, which in the first week of August accounted for one third of all the new cases of COVID in the U.S.. At Rice, university Provost Reginald DesRoches explained in a letter that there has been a “substantial increase in the number of cases within our Rice community, which is predominantly vaccinated.” Added the university’s undergraduate dean, Bridget Gorman, “it has become clear that as a campus community we need to take steps to further assess and recalibrate how we will manage this illness at Rice this year.”

Jones Dean Peter Rodriguez reaffirmed those messages. “Due to the rise in Delta variant cases in Houston and on campus, the university has added new safety precautions,” wrote Rodriguez in an Aug. 19th email to students. “Our top priority remains the health and safety of all members of the Rice Business community. As you read today in the provost’s email, instruction will go online next week through Friday, September 3. During that time, the university will continue to assess the situation.”


Rice Jones Dean Peter Rodriguez

Rodriguez noted that starting Aug. 23rd all courses will be online through at least Sept. 3. During that time, all events are either cancelled or will be held virtually. “We’ve done this before. I know we can do it again,” added Rodriguez.

The University of Texas at Austin, meantime, is strongly recommending–but still not requiring due to an executive order from the Republican governor of the state–students to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. The school also has in place a daily symptom screening via mobile phones with the university’s Protect Texas Together app for all students, faculty, and staff coming to campus or living on campus. For select campus buildings and units, in-person temperature screenings will be required. UT students who test positive will be expected to self-isolate or quarantine. Unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 also will be directed to self-quarantine.

“As you know, the virus is still circulating in our communities, and the delta variant, in particular, is concerning,” wrote SMU Dean of Students Melinda J. Sutton in an Aug. 16th email to the university’s community. “While a lot of the pandemic restrictions on campus have eased due to the availability of vaccines, we are maintaining many of the same protocols aimed at keeping our campus healthy. If you test positive for COVID-19, please complete a Caring Community Connections (CCC) form so that someone from the contact tracing team can reach out to offer guidance and support. Students living on campus who test positive will be placed into isolation housing, and unvaccinated students who are exposed to someone testing positive will be required to quarantine. Students living off campus who test positive or are exposed will be asked to isolate or quarantine, respectively, in their homes. Please keep in mind that if you are vaccinated and provide proof of your vaccination status, you will not need to quarantine.”

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