Deans Answer Questions About Returning to Campus for Fall Semester

From top left: deans Dennis Clark of the University Libraries and Lynda Coon of the Honors College; and below: Todd Shields of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and interim Provost Charles Robinson.
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From top left: deans Dennis Clark of the University Libraries and Lynda Coon of the Honors College; and below: Todd Shields of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and interim Provost Charles Robinson.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – In the second of a series of four virtual forums, deans Dennis Clark of the University Libraries, Lynda Coon of the Honors College and Todd Shields of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences took questions Friday about the reopening of campus in the fall.

More than 300 students, faculty and staff registered for the forum. In some measure, each of these deans represents the broadest academic units on campus — every faculty member and student uses the resources of the University Libraries; the Honors College serves students across the spectrum of academic fields; and Fulbright College provides the bulk of the university's academic core to all students.

Interim Provost Charles Robinson moderated the conversation, and Terry Martin, senior vice provost for academic affairs, also offered insights into the plans being developed to maximize safety on campus. After short introductory remarks, the deans took questions from viewers.


The University Libraries have been operating virtually since March, still providing services online but physically closed. A week ago, they began providing doorside delivery of materials for checkout. The University Libraries will reopen to the campus community on Aug. 10.

Dennis Clark, dean of the University Libraries, said that the reopening comes at a difficult moment because the third and fourth floors of Mullins Library are in the middle of renovation. The closing has helped speed that renovation process, but it won't be finished until summer of 2021. This year, space will be tight.

When the University Libraries reopen on Aug. 10, visitors will see fewer chairs and tables to allow for more social distancing, but the renovation will have a much bigger effect on the available space for study. Patrons won't be able to reserve spaces as they have in the past, with the exception of Special Collections, which will have reserved spaces available for University of Arkansas faculty, staff and student researchers who call to make a reservation ahead of time.

While the University Libraries were physically closed, staff were able to purchase more digital materials, and Clark said they are looking at purchasing electronic book packages as well.

"If your research is dependent on published materials, reach out to us," Clark said. "We have librarians waiting to help. … We have a full suite of services available even if the modality has to change."


Dean Lynda Coon of the Honors College said that the Honors College recognizes that changes at most high schools to remote teaching have created new challenges for students. So the Honors College has temporarily changed the standards for admission to the college:

  • Students who have a 28 on the ACT and achieve the grade point average required by their academic college will still be automatically admitted to the Honors College.

  • Students who have a 26 on the ACT but maintained a 3.9 GPA will also be automatically admitted this coming year.

  • Students who have a 3.9 GPA but do not have the ACT score necessary for automatic admission will be invited to apply in Spring 2021. The honors application for these students, which will include an academic resume and essay, will be subject to review for admission.

For incoming freshmen, she said, the university faculty realize that many of them missed out on some of the traditional high school rites of passage, such as senior prom and and in-person graduation. She said the Honors College is developing events and curriculum to make sure those students have an extraordinary and memorable start to their college career.

Likewise, the college continues to develop international internships and new curricular ideas that embody the best of online teaching, such as a course on Arctic Climate Change that will bring together professors and students from around the globe.

The Honors College is also working with faculty and honors seniors to facilitate original research that culminates in defended honors theses.


Many programs don't work as easily in online settings as in person. Several people asked about such programs, including the various bands, orchestras and choral groups on campus.

Todd Shields, dean of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, said that the college is prioritizing which courses can be moved to remote teaching and which need, ideally, to be given in person.

Music courses, art course, science labs — all involve a good deal of in-person supervision. Other courses — large general lectures, for instance — usually don't need to be in-person.

So far, approximately 28 percent of courses that had been given in-person will move to remote-only offering. The rest will be offered through either in-person courses or through a hybrid method, such as a situation in which a third of the class attends the course in-person one day and each of the other thirds rotates in every other day. On non-in-person days, the students attend remotely.

Among the questions that Shields fielded was one about dealing with a student who doesn't follow campus health protocols.

On the first occasion, faculty will ask the student to observe the U of A's stated protocols or leave the classroom. On a second occasion, the faculty member will have the ability to report the student to a conduct board, which will follow up with a conversation with the student.

Shields also stressed the importance of extending kindness, flexibility and understanding to one another as we adjust to this fall's changes.

"We're in this together and we'll make changes as needed until we find what works best," he said.


Senior Vice Provost Terry Martin said that one of the challenges that planners have faced is how to help a student who has an in-person class followed by a remote class, but who is unable to get home or back to the residence hall in time to join the remote class.

He said the university is working on spaces for such students to join a course remotely without having to leave campus, possibly spaces in the Arkansas Union or classrooms that are not in use or even tented spaces.

Martin said that the university plans to record all courses, so even if a student can't join during the live version of the remote course, they will be able to watch the lecture and hear what was discussed in class.

The university is also planning to increase WiFi signals in green areas of campus and discussing how to increase the number of laptops that can be checked out.

To increase safety, the university is also developing a comprehensive testing and contact tracing system with a plan to provide quick turn-around on tests. The Pat Walker Health Center will lead this program.


Each forum will be held on Zoom and last approximately 75 minutes. Interim Provost Robinson will continue to moderate. Space is limited. Registration requires a email address. The remaining Deans' Forums include:

July 30, 2:30-3:45 p.m. — Register Here

  • John English, dean of the College of Engineering
  • Margaret McCabe, dean of the School of Law
  • Brian Primack, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions
  • Matt Waller, dean of the Walton College of Business

August (Date/time to be determined)

  • Chancellor Joe Steinmetz
  • Yvette Murphy-Erby, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion
  • Members of the COVID-19 Response Team

Faculty, staff and students with questions for the forum participants can send them in advance to Questions can also be asked during the forums as time allows.

The university's Coronavirus Update site and Returning to Campus guide will continue to provide the latest updates and resources.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3% of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Charlie Alison, executive editor
University Relations


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