Wisconsin Public Radio

UW-Milwaukee, Madison Will Reopen This Fall

Universities will limit the size of in person classes, with many courses moving online.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jun 18th, 2020 10:55 am
UWM Sandburg Residence Halls. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

UWM Sandburg Residence Halls. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Wisconsin’s two largest universities have released plans for reopening their campuses to students and faculty this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison says many classes will be in-person starting Sept. 2 but will move online after Thanksgiving. UW-Milwaukee says classes will be a mix of online and in-person instruction throughout the semester.

In an email to students and employees, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the administration intends to offer its full curriculum, “with many of our courses delivered in person until the Thanksgiving recess.” After that, Blank said all courses will move online for the final nine days of instruction and exams.

“This was a particularly difficult decision, as we recognize the strong desire to return to something close to normal,” Blank said. “We believe this is the prudent choice given the likelihood that students leaving and returning to Madison over the Thanksgiving recess would increase the risk for infections on our campus.”

For those who cannot go home or study remotely, Blank said accommodations will be made for students to complete their semester on campus. All classes with more than 100 students enrolled will be taught online throughout the semester.

Masks will be required for everyone inside public spaces at UW-Madison. Blank said drop-in testing centers will offer free COVID-19 tests to any student, faculty or staff member that requests one. She also said the campus will be doing voluntary surveillance testing for COVID-19.

“This means that some will be asked to voluntarily join cohorts that will be tested on a regular basis to monitor whether the virus is spreading,” said Blank.

The university will also do targeted testing: “For instance, all students and staff in the residence halls will be tested regularly,” Blank said.

Blank said UW-Madison intends to open all residence halls this fall with enhanced safety protocols. For example, she said most rooms will have two residents.

In a briefing with reporters, Blank said UW-Madison is now conservatively estimating $150 million in losses leading up to the start of the fall semester. She said that number is based on assumptions that things would be back to normal in the fall.

“And we already know that’s not going to be true,” said Blank. “If athletics is not fully operating, if our unions are not fully operating, conferences are not taking place, the losses into the fall, in the spring could be much larger.”

Blank was asked what it might take for the university to move all classes online and tell students to stay home. But she said there aren’t any specific metrics that would trigger such a shift.

“There could be a huge surge across the country and here in Wisconsin that would make it unsafe for us to continue to operate and to again change the mode of instruction. And we very much hope that doesn’t happen,” Blank said.

Laura Downer, chair of the Associated Students of Madison, said it’s clear that administrators have put careful thought into the UW-Madison reopening plan.

“I think a lot of students are really wanting to come back to campus and they want to feel like they’re a part of the Madison campus again and be back in classes with their professors and with their friends and peers,” said Downer. “But I think there are also a lot of students who are hesitant about it and who are nervous, rightfully so.” 


In a press release, UW-Milwaukee announced a mix of in-person and online classes this fall. It said masks will be required and university buildings are being modified with plexiglass barriers in high traffic areas to encourage social distancing.

“We have given very careful consideration to what is best for our students educationally and to address the health needs of our students, faculty and staff, and our community,” said UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone. “We know students and families have been waiting for this announcement, but it was important for us to take the time to get it right. We knew from surveys that our students wanted to be back on campus, but we needed to make sure that we could bring them back in as safe a manner as possible.”

UW-Milwaukee plans to use a “hybrid approach” for classes this fall.

“For example, in a Tuesday/Thursday class, half of the students would attend in person on Tuesday and have online instruction on Thursday, while the other half would have the opposite schedule,” the release said.

Joel Berkowitz is a UW-Milwaukee professor of foreign language and literature and president of the Milwaukee Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He said employees understand the desire to return to in-person classes this fall but some faculty members aren’t ready.

“Overwhelmingly, anecdotally, I’m hearing people saying, ‘I can’t see conditions being safe enough that I will feel safe going back in the classroom.'” Berkowitz said.

He said faculty were originally told they would have the final say in whether their classes were online or not, but the plan released by campus administration doesn’t make that clear.

“And I think if people then are confused, if they’re looking at the chancellor’s announcement today and think, ‘Oh, I thought that we were going to have a say in this, and now I’m not sure that we do, etc.,’ they just might be completely stymied as to how they proceed,” said Berkowitz.

A UW-Milwaukee spokeswoman referred to a list of frequently asked questions released with the campus reopening plan. It said that “after plans are better known, any employee who is concerned about working onsite should feel free to discuss that concern with their department chair or supervisor.”

Like UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee will hold all classes with more than 100 students entirely online.

The release said single and double dorm rooms will be available this fall. Dining services are being adapted so meals can be ordered and paid for using cellphones to minimize contact during transactions.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Editor’s note: Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee Announce Plans To Reopen This Fall Amid COVID-19 Pandemic was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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