Colleges and universities across the country are launching sweeping measures across core campus operations — including instruction, lab work, admissions and financial aid — as they confront the fast-moving global coronavirus outbreak.

UC Berkeley, San Jose State, San Francisco State, Santa Clara, Princeton, Ohio State and Vanderbilt universities became the latest institutions to announce on Monday that they would suspend all or most in-person classes immediately or in coming weeks. UC San Diego announced Monday night that all lectures and discussion courses would be conducted online for the spring quarter, which begins March 25. Overall, more than 25 universities in the United States, Mideast, Asia and Italy have announced moves to online learning.

Other campuses are stepping up restrictions on travel, large gatherings, study-abroad programs and campus events and tours. Caltech officials, citing an “abundance of caution in light of the quickly evolving COVID-19 situation,” announced cancellations of all on-campus visit programs indefinitely.

“The long-term results of the coronavirus will remain to be seen, but it’s clear that the short-term challenge is probably the greatest that higher education has faced in a generation,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education. “Every college and university is on a war footing about this and are trying to assemble as much information as possible.”

Mitchell said higher education has experienced such tumult only a few times in the last century. After 9/11, he said, widespread travel restrictions were initiated and some students were targets of racial and religious profiling. During the Vietnam War, many campuses were inflamed by antiwar protests and lost some students and faculty members to the military draft.

The Great Recession of 2008 financially sapped higher education but the damage took place more gradually, with the University of California losing one-third of its state funding over three years, said Nathan Brostrom, who was UC chief financial officer at the time and now serves as interim chancellor at UC Merced.

The difference with the coronavirus, Brostrom said, has been the speed of its onslaught and the dramatic effect it is having across campus.

“Literally every time I look at my computer, something new is coming up,” Brostrom said. “The impact is felt on every part of campus operations. All we can do is continually prepare and be nimble in our responses.”

UC Merced’s all-in mobilization involves twice-daily meetings on emergency services and teleconferences with all UC campuses to share information and best practices. They review health updates and policies on travel and large gatherings. They nail down plans to continue instruction and research should the campus have to move to online learning. Merced has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus or even reports of potential exposure, and its classes are not affected for now.

In addition, the UC financial expert said he was starting to assess the costs of the coronavirus outbreak. Merced will pay for any extra costs to bring 21 students home early from study-abroad programs in Italy, South Korea and Japan. Already, the campus is paying for added expenses, such as mega-orders of hand sanitizer and extra campus cleanings.

And potential future costs loom. Merced could lose needed revenue if the campus cancels summer sessions. It could need to provide financial aid to the largely low-income student body if classes move online and obviate the need for federal work-study jobs on campus.

So far, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego are the only schools in the 10-campus University of California system to announce in-person class suspensions. At both campuses, classes that cannot be held remotely, such as laboratories and performing arts, will continue to meet. Berkeley has not received notice of campus members who tested positive for the virus or were exposed to it.

Varsha Sarveshwar, a UC Berkeley senior and UC Student Assn. president, said she fully backed the decision and called on all UC campuses to consider similar action.

“It’s a really responsible decision on the part of the campus,” she said.

She added that the transition should not be too disruptive because Berkeley already began stepping up online learning last year when Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power during the Northern California wildfires.

At a UCLA student meeting Monday, officials said that they are paying close attentions to public health reports but do not see a need at this time to suspend in-person classes or close dorms or dining halls.

Across town at USC, officials are preparing for a three-day test on online learning.

“We are preparing the university to make substantial changes in a very short period of time to ensure we have the capability to move online should stronger measures become necessary,” said Provost Charles F. Zukoski. “We are in uncharted territory and we are being vigilant to protect our community.”

At other campuses throughout the country, coronavirus developments have caused some confusion. Sophia Cai, a Princeton University student and co-president of the school’s University Press Club, spent much of Sunday debunking unsubstantiated rumors of two cases of the coronavirus on campus.

Cai lives in a dorm and her family lives in Princeton, but she’s unsure whether she’ll go home or stay on campus. She has not done “virtual learning” in college classes before. “This is new to me. It’s new for all of us,” she said.

Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber said officials are encouraging students to consider staying home after the week-long spring break, which begins on March 14.


Except for San Jose and San Francisco State, the California State University’s 21 other campuses are still holding in-person classes, a university spokesman said. But 10 Cal State Long Beach students were in self-isolation after possible exposure at a conference in Washington, D.C., last week.

At the California community colleges “all of our campuses are preparing for the possibility of a disruption and for moving students online,” Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said.

Sierra College in Rocklin, outside Sacramento, declared a “campus state of emergency” Sunday after two employees were possibly exposed to COVID-19 on a cruise. The employees, who do not work in classrooms, were on the same cruise as an elderly Placer County man who later tested positive for COVID-19 and died.

The college said faculty would begin providing instruction online Wednesday and must transition to remote instruction by March 18. Many lab classes will continue on site and athletic competitions will proceed without spectators. All events and non-essential travel through the end of March were also canceled.

In the Los Angeles Community College District, officials have worked to debunk false rumors about coronavirus cases at three campuses. Five Pierce College students have been instructed to “self-monitor” their health after returning from a conference last week at which three other attendees not affiliated with the campus tested positive for COVID-19, said LACCD spokesman William Boyer. He said no students have shown symptoms of the illness that met public health agency standards for testing for the virus.


(Times staff writer Sonali Kohli contribute to this report.)


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