Lassner to UH faculty, staff, students: Prepare to be on campus next spring

  • LASSNER

  • SOLEMSAAS

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Justin Higa and Zyrill Dela Cruz study together outside the library at UH-Hilo on Wednesday.

By JOHN BURNETT

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

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University of Hawaii President David Lassner on Monday sent a memo to all UH faculty and staff, telling department chairs and faculty to “carefully review your spring 2022 schedules and make adjustments to the mode of instruction to provide our students across the UH system with the on-campus educational experience they need and expect.”

Noting COVID-19 case numbers and hospital occupancy numbers statewide “are now trending in the right direction” and vaccination rates exceed national averages, Lassner said all UH system campuses “will return to full utilization of our classrooms per CDC guidelines and we are confident this will be a safe transition.”

“We know that many of our students have struggled with the loss of face-to-face contact, especially many of those who need us most,” Lassner said.

“Certainly, it’s the direction we’ve all been preparing for, so President Lassner really just emphasized and provided clarification of how we should be proceeding for spring,” Rachel Solemsaas, Hawaii Community College chancellor, said Wednesday. “We’ve learned how important it is to have online classes but also how important it is to bring back campus life.”

Lassner said all UH campuses will in January implement its requirement that all faculty, staff and students taking in-person classes or working on campus provide proof of vaccination or request a medical or religious exemption, subject to approval. Those who are approved for an exemption must be tested weekly for COVID-19.

In addition, face masks will be required indoors on all UH campuses.

“While we have much more activity on our campuses this year than last, our campus case counts have remained low even as the numbers in our communities skyrocketed,” Lassner said. “We know of no cases of COVID-19 transmission on a UH campus this year.”

According to Solemsaas, one program where all students are required to be vaccinated — with no exceptions or provisions for weekly COVID-19 testing — is nursing. She said that applies to all nursing programs systemwide, not just HCC.

“We have to make sure that they are able to participate in clinics, and most of our clinical placements require vaccination,” Solemsaas explained. “Luckily, our students had no problem with that.”

She added two nursing students who chose to not be vaccinated at this point were allowed the option of deferring their participation in the program.

Solemsaas said, by and large, faculty and students at HCC are “eager to have hands-on and face-to-face learning.” She said that’s especially true with vocational and technical programs such as carpentry and auto mechanics.

“We have passionate faculty eager to come back to the classroom because they know their students would like some face-to-face component and being in the classroom,” she said. “Those faculty have really stepped up to the plate to transition to that.”

Lassner said student success “depends in part on our commitment to teach and support them in-person as well as online.”

“On a number of our campuses, retention of students dropped notably, including when the Delta (variant) surge prevented us from returning to as much in-person instruction and support this fall as we had planned,” he said.

Asked if she had noticed student retention issues at HCC during the pandemic, Solemsaas replied, “Unfortunately, yes.”

“We’re starting to see some of the reasons, and we can’t just pinpoint it to one,” she said. “There are a variety of reasons, from financing to digital equity … .”

Lassner told UH employees if the COVID-19 numbers “worsen markedly” the university “will respond and pivot as we have in the past to protect the health and well-being of our campus and island community, including full compliance with federal, state and county orders.”

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The Tribune-Herald reached out to University of Hawaii at Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin for comment, but she didn’t respond in time for this story.

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

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