MARSHALL, Texas (KSLA) — Aug. 17 is fast approaching. For East Texas Baptist University, this is the official start of the fall semester.
It’s also unquestionably a test of how well prepared the school of about 1,600 is to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus on campus as cases of COVID-19 rise throughout Texas.
“Even though education is our mission, you can’t educate people who are sick,” said Dr. Thomas Sanders, provost and vice president of academic affairs at ETBU. “What’s happening right now is going to set the tone for what we do in a month and a half.”
When students return, Sanders said, the number of people physically learning in a classroom is being slashed 50%, an effort to limit any large gatherings.
The other half of the students who are enrolled in a class will attend virtually via Zoom. ETBU purchased “premium” accounts for students so classes don’t time out.
“We’re trying not to push students completely to an online platform because we think students that come to our campus really want a campus experience,” Sanders added.
Students will take turns learning in person and virtually.
“We’re going to have to live in a world that’s different,” Sanders stated. “Students need to move into the adult world.”
Plastered across campus are informational flyers, posters and signs encouraging social distancing and good hygiene.
In fact, one board reads “FOR ENTRY TO ETBU YOU MUST WEAR A FACE MASK.”
Although most people recently seen walking around campus were wearing some form of face covering, there still were a select few who were not — an issue Sanders does not take lightly.
“Faculty will be empowered to say if you aren’t wearing a mask, you can’t come in,” he emphasized. “Those are the things we are going to be serious about. Are there going to be cases where students choose to do something else? Yes.”
Despite the economic turmoil ignited by the coronavirus, Sanders claims students enrollment is actually higher this fall than it was last year — by 90 students.
In fact, he added, enrollment for graduate studies is up 25%.
“We track it day by day, so we’re running ahead of this same day last year. Students intentions from freshman all the way to graduate students is to return.”
Although no person really knows how this virus is going to continue to unfold in the days, weeks and months ahead — especially as states continue to loosen restrictions — Sanders said the current predicament is nothing more than a test of faith.
“We have to focus on the good things ... . What will make us better in the future? I think that’s part of our faith, reflecting on how God has been faithful in a horrible situation.”