Niagara University reopening plan deals with coronavirus plus border closure

Jul 20, 2020

Every college and university in the United States has to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues it brings to each campus and classroom. Niagara University not only is dealing with the issues in Lewiston, but on its campus in Vaughan, near Toronto, where the border closure affects planning.

The basic premise is that students will be on campus and attend classes from Aug. 24-Nov. 24. That is the Thanksgiving break. After that, study and exams will be done remotely. Final exams begin Dec. 1 and will be proctored if necessary, virtually.

Some traditionally online classes will stay that way. There will be no fall vacations, no sports and limited social activity. Dining will be controlled by a phone app which says where there are socially distant chairs.

University President Fr. James Maher said changes to deal with the new world will cost several million dollars, especially to find enough space for classes. Masks will be worn and social distancing will be required. Maher said the 2,500 undergraduate students will also have to agree to the changes.

"Making sure we can communicate and build the culture that this is an extraordinarily challenging time and we all have to do the things that protect ourselves, so that we can all be safe and healthy and continue our education. That will be the message," Maher said. "So we'll have students sign a pledge. I'll sign a pledge that we're going to be committed to all these things, and we have to really both support and challenge each other as we go forward."

Maher said Niagara is working with teachers who have health issues and have concerns about being in the same room as students. Both in Lewiston and in Vaughan, the university is making substantial investments in new technology to allow virtual classes.

This has taken some time to work out everything.

"It's very complicated, but it really gets you to maximize your campus space and things that you may not have thought would have been classrooms, you can use as classrooms," Maher said. "And just be incredibly creative and use some video conferencing and some technology and things that can really help and enhance the learning environment as we go forward."