UH makes ‘hard’ decisions in wake of virus

  • UH President David Lassner and UHH Chancellor Bonnie Irwin

University of Hawaii President David Lassner on Thursday elaborated on plans for the 10-campus UH system to move to online classes beginning Monday, March 23, the first day of instruction following spring break.

In a live feed streamed on the university’s website, Lassner described the decisions UH is making in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as “hard” and “impactful.”

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“We are really committed to help all of our students complete the semester, particularly those who are on track to graduate in the spring,” Lassner said. “And we want to maximize the safety of our students, as well as our faculty and our staff, and everyone who visits our campuses.”

Lassner said if a class needs to continue to be taught face-to-face to meet learning objectives, students will be informed after approval by the campus is given to do so.

At this time, in-person courses are scheduled to resume Monday, April 13, the day after Easter. Lassner said that date “will continue to be re-evaluated, and updates will be provided as needed.”

“Although I think things are going to get worse before they get better, we as a team want to be hopeful that it will have started getting better by then, at least in Hawaii,” he said. “So we want to leave that option open, that if we are able to return to in-person classes, we want to be able to do so.

“… We’ll make that call when we can see which way things are headed.”

UH-Manoa has canceled its spring interscholastic athletics seasons — following the lead of universities and athletic conferences nationwide, as well as the NCAA, which announced the cancellation Thursday of its “March Madness” men’s and women’s national championship basketball tournaments.

“If you’ve been following the news out of the athletics world, along with the NCAA, both of our conferences to which we belong have not only cancelled their tournaments which were underway, but have suspended all athletic conference competition for the remainder of the spring,” Lassner said.

The Pacific West Conference, in which UH-Hilo competes, has decided to suspend athletics until March 30, when a decision will be made whether to move forward. The Vulcan athletics website posted a statement saying they will essentially follow the conference’s lead.

The UH-Hilo Vulcan baseball and women’s softball teams were both scheduled to play doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday against Academy of Arts at Brisbane, Calif., and March 17 and 18 against Holy Names University at Hayward, Calif.

Both teams were awaiting flights to take them to Northern California, when UHH Athletic Director Pat Guillen “made the decision to pull them back from the airport.”

As for practice, Guillen said, “At this point, but it could change as the situation is fluid, we are allowing teams to practice on a voluntary basis. Practice is not mandatory.”

Another casualty of COVID-19, at least for now, was a “State of the University” address that UH-Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin was to have delivered Thursday.

“I feel strongly that any remarks given during a time like this that doesn’t concentrate on COVID-19 are distracting from our immediate concerns,” Irwin said in an email to UH faculty and staff.

Irwin said she still hopes “to deliver in person” the address, at a later date.

According to Lassner, in the interest of “social distancing,” no events will be scheduled at UH campuses with more than 100 people in enclosed spaces.

UH’s 10 campuses will remain open and continue to operate as normal, with the exception of in-person classes moving online. All employees, including students and graduate assistants, are expected to continue to come to work, Lassner said.

“We’re not telling students to leave,” he said. “Our dorms will be open. Our libraries will be open. Our labs will be open. … There will be food available on campus. So we are not sending students home in any way, shape or form. We’re simply limiting in-person classes.”

Student recreation centers at both Manoa and Hilo campuses will remain open.

“No plan is perfect. But we think each of these steps will help us — but, more importantly, will help our students, our faculty and our staff succeed,” Lassner said.

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“We believe we are looking at a pretty dark time as a nation and as a globe, right now. But we do believe we can come through this together by working together, and really caring for one another as we think about the impact of our own actions and decisions on others.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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