Full stadiums, full classrooms: University of Alabama plans return to pre-pandemic normalcy in fall 2021

The University of Alabama announced it will fully return to pre-pandemic normalcy by fall 2021.

The UA System chancellor announced plans for full capacity stadiums and a complete return to in-person learning.

The University of Alabama System announced plans to return to fully in-person classroom instruction for the Fall 2021 semester.

In a press release, the UA System, which includes the campuses in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville, outlined plans for “traditional in-person instruction without restrictions on classroom capacity” at all three campuses.

The decision was made by Chancellor Finis St. John and the Board of Trustees on the recommendation of the UA System Health and Safety Task Force, a team of public health experts from the UA System schools and UA Medicine.

“Our models give us confidence in the strong likelihood that we’ll have a safe environment for traditional classrooms and on-campus activities by the fall,” Health and Safety Task Force Chair Dr. Selwyn Vickers said. “If safety concerns arise, we can adjust our plan; the safety of the 110,000 students, faculty and staff of the UA System remains our top priority as it has since our Task Force began its work one year ago when COVID-19 began to emerge.”

As the release points out, the UA System COVID-19 dashboard shows a decreasing number of cases in recent weeks. 

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“I’m excited that UA is resuming normal operations in the fall, as I believe that it’s the correct decision as well,” Ethan Lamb, a history and political science major, told Campus Reform. “By the next school year, we should have herd immunity on campus as the majority of faculty and students will be vaccinated, along with everyone else in the community who has already had the virus.”

“It also makes no sense for us to continue implementing COVID restrictions on campus if the same students are allowed to go to bars, restaurants, and do everything else that typical college students like to do,” Lamb added.

University of Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne addressed questions about Byrant-Denny Stadium’s capacity on Twitter, saying, “We are moving forward with plans to have a full stadium in the fall and will monitor medical guidelines as we have all along.”

Stadium capacity had been limited to 20 percent of total seating during the 2020-21 college football season.

“Personally, I cannot wait to walk into a full Bryant Denny Stadium on a fall Saturday afternoon again,” Lamb said. “If someone doesn’t feel comfortable attending a football game, then they don’t have to go, but there’s no reason that everyone who wants to go shouldn’t be able to. I think we’ll see other schools follow our lead as well.”

Daniel Milligan, a Junior in the Million Dollar Band, said he was “very excited” by the prospect of being able to attend games again. “Hopefully we’ll be able to perform as usual there too!”

Some students expressed concern about the announcement, however. “If they can do in person classes safely, I’m ecstatic,” one student said, “but I worry that they’re jumping the gun just so they can get the announcement out before registration starts without knowing if it’s safe or not.”

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Sophomore Matt Symonds harbored doubts over whether the University will be able to follow the plan as outlined. "I’m glad the university is committed to this for next fall, however, I have some reservations that this won’t be a 100 percent guarantee,” Symonds said. "I feel like the somewhat slow rollout of the vaccine will maybe make it like 75 percent capacity for both things in the fall at worst."

"This 2020-2021 School Year has been a brutal one for me where I have felt like both internet learning as well as very distanced in-person learning has made it more difficult to perform as well as I would’ve liked to in my classes this year," Symonds added. "Overall I’m really hopeful about this news, and I hope the university is able to stick with this plan.”

With the announcement, St. John said, “The return to normal operations would not be possible without the leadership of our campus presidents – UA President Stuart Bell, UAB President Ray Watts and UAH President Darren Dawson – who have skillfully implemented the health and safety measures recommended by our world-renowned medical experts.”

The University of Alabama College Republicans President Hunter Weathers also told Campus Reform that he is excited for the return to full in-person classes.

“I think it’s time we get back to full in-person classes. We have been paying full tuition to not get a full-quality education. The CDC has said it’s safe to have in person learning, and students benefit most from in person learning," Weathers said. “A full capacity football stadium will bring back great opportunities for local businesses to grow and bring in more revenue. It’s time we start to get back to a more normal lifestyle and roll back the restrictions."

The University of Alabama did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. 

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