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Local colleges and universities explore how and when to reopen campuses

University at Buffalo

Local colleges and universities are working to determine when, and how, they'll be able to reopen their respective campuses for the fall semester. One local institution of higher learning, for example, will launch two projects today to explore options including scattering students over more classes and continued use of online distance learning.

Hilbert College's newly-formed Comeback Taskforce will discuss not only academic scenarios but also residence hall modifications and a schedule to start the fall term. The panel is made up of administrators, educators and a student representative.

"Everything will be on the table. Evening classes, weekend classes, hybrid classes which are partially online and partially face-to-face," said Hilbert president Michael Brophy, who is one of 14 members of the taskforce. "The only good thing about what happened this spring is everyone in our faculty definitely dived into the pool of online learning, so they learned a lot. Our students gave them good reviews, and surveys, but they also gave us good advice on how to improve things as well."

In addition to launching the Comeback Taskforce, Hilbert faculty will undergo training to improve online instruction materials and delivery. Brophy sees the value in distance learning not just through the pandemic, but in future events including winter storms.

Niagara University has formed its own task force to explore options for the fall. Its president, James Maher, recently told WKBW-TV the university hopes it may reopen to its students by late August.

The University at Buffalo, meanwhile, released a memo to its campus community, stating that they plan to share more information on decisions regarding the fall semester in mid-June. The state university is also preparing a plan to gradually return employees to the campus, and resume research projects that have been suspended since mid-March.

At Hilbert College, Brophy said as a Franciscan institution it's important to them to maintain face-to-face learning. The college also wants, when it is safe, to give its Class of 2020 a proper graduation and sendoff.

"We definitely are doing everything we can now, which includes getting our students their caps and gowns, as gifts from the college, along with other things that can help them to get to celebrate with their families and their friends," Brophy said. "We're very lucky. Most of our students are from Western New York, and we definitely plan to roll out the red carpet and do a big proper Baccalaureate Mass and, certainly, graduation in the fall, when the weather's still good."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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