As Lenoir-Rhyne University prepares for the fall 2021 semester, it is looking forward with optimism.
After careful consideration by LR's presidential task force, which has managed the university through the pandemic, and with considerable input from public health officials, Lenoir-Rhyne is announcing it is returning to a fully in-person schedule when classes commence in August.
"We've been following the guidance of our local health care providers pretty closely, as well as the governor and state officials," said LR Provost Gary Johnson, Ph.D. "I think the biggest turning point was the vaccine and being able to get as many of our faculty and staff vaccinated as we did."
Throughout the recent academic year, the university implemented several health and safety policies, operating in hybrid mode, with both online and in-person classes to give students an on-campus experience.
"It took effort from the whole community: faculty, staff, students and community members," Johnson said. "We have a lot of buy-in from all of those constituencies; it would have been challenging to make it through. The fact that we did speaks highly about all of them."
LR was quick to act in the early days of the pandemic, expanding spring break before moving classes and university operations remote in March of 2020. Then, throughout the 2020-21 academic year, the university made significant changes to the class schedule implementing hybrid schedules that cut down on population density on campus and allowed for more cleaning opportunities. The university also invested in technology that enabled it to continue to provide state-of-the-art instruction to students, as well as implemented weekly testing, social distancing and cleanliness guidelines. These measures provided some of the traditional in-person components denied to university students throughout much of the country, all while keeping the LR community safe.
"[University President Dr. Fred] Whitt and the presidential task force deserve a lot of credit for staying in front of this," Johnson said. "They were consistent in their messaging. Our students deserve credit. They took things seriously and bought into their role in being good members of our community. It turns out we did things right in terms of social distancing and mask-wearing."
By the Numbers
LR administered random tests at all three campuses throughout the last academic year. During the spring semester of 2021, the university administered 11,218 tests recording 28 positive results for a rate of .25 percent. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, some counties in North Carolina currently still have positive test rates as high as 9 percent or nearly 1 in 10.
While the pandemic isn't over, Johnson said the university is confident in its decision to return to standard practices for the 2021-22 school year. However, he was clear to point out LR is sure to take advantage of the lessons it learned.
"The presidential task force will probably continue on a reduced schedule," he said. "It was originally set up to address, not just COVID, but also any situation that could disrupt normal operations for an extended period. That could be a hurricane or power outage. It's a good idea to continue those discussions of preparedness."
"We will also continue to take advantage of some things we've learned from a teaching perspective. We invested in technology that allowed us to take a hybrid approach this last year. Even going back in person, our faculty have access to that technology and those resources."