TALLAHASSEE — In a sign that Florida’s higher-education institutions are preparing for a return to normalcy, two of the state’s largest universities are announcing changes that bring people back to campus.
Florida State University is gearing up to bring students back for in-person instruction starting this summer, after nearly a year of distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The university shifted to remote learning for its entire campus on March 23 of last year, as coronavirus cases in Florida began to mount.
“We look forward to having more students on campus this summer, and we will have a robust offering of in-person classes as well as hybrid, flex, and online classes. This fall, we anticipate that courses designed for in-person delivery will resume in a face-to-face format,” FSU Provost Sally McRorie and Amy Hecht, the university’s vice president for student affairs, wrote in a letter sent to students Thursday.
FSU’s summer semester kicks off on May 10 for most programs, and the fall semester is slated to begin August 23.
Acknowledging that COVID-19 is “unpredictable,” the university officials advised students that the return-to-campus plan is “subject to change.”
While FSU officials “will continue to closely monitor conditions” and consult with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local officials, “at this time, the university is confident that we can resume more normal operations in the coming months,” McRorie and Hecht wrote.
In another indicator of the push to restore pre-pandemic higher education norms, FSU and the University of Florida will hold in-person graduation ceremonies for spring-semester graduates.
Both institutions have announced a series of upcoming reduced-capacity commencements that will mark the universities’ first in-person graduation ceremonies since December 2019. Spring, summer and fall graduations during the 2020 academic year were conducted remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
FSU will hold 11 commencement ceremonies spread over the final two weekends in April, university President John Thrasher announced Thursday. The university is advising students that face masks will be required for graduates and for the four guests allowed for each student.
The “condensed” graduation programs will make social distancing possible, university officials said in a press release issued Thursday. Thrasher will be the commencement speaker at each event.
“We plan to retain many elements of our traditional ceremonies while taking the necessary steps to ensure that we can gather in the safest way possible,” Thrasher said in a prepared statement.
As with the plan to reintroduce in-person instruction, FSU is leaving open the possibility that the face-to-face graduation ceremonies could change.
“This has been an extraordinary year in many ways, and I’ve been so impressed by your resilience and flexibility,” Thrasher wrote in a letter to students. “You have worked through some tremendous challenges in order to graduate.”
The University of Florida will follow a similar plan, with President Kent Fuchs scheduled to give commencement speeches at 14 ceremonies over a five-day period from April 29 through May 3.
“There will be no processional, nor recessional, no platform party, and college deans will not be shaking hands with students,” the university wrote in a news release outlining changes from previous in-person graduation ceremonies.
The University of Florida’s graduation events will take place at the school’s athletics arena, the O’Connell Center, which will be restricted to 20-percent capacity. Face masks will be required. Spring graduates will be limited to two guests, and UF estimates that about 584 students will take part in each ceremony.
The university’s football stadium will serve as an overflow facility, where the graduation events will be livestreamed for maximum crowds of 17,000.
“We are absolutely thrilled to celebrate our graduating students’ incredible accomplishments with in-person commencement ceremonies this spring,” Fuchs said in a Feb. 19 press release announcing the graduation plans.