Small college trustee says delaying fall semester possible to ensure in-person education

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Colleges across the U.S. are trying to figure out how, exactly, the fall academic period will be conducted due to the coronavirus pandemic. At least for Colby College, a small liberal arts school in Waterville, Maine, one possibility is pushing back the start of the semester. 

“One of the things that we’ve decided as a leadership of the college, and as of a board of trustees, that even if we had to delay the first semester as late as December or January, we could still run a full year of in-person education,” Bob Diamond, former Barclays CEO and Colby College trustee, told CNBC on Wednesday. 

Diamond, appearing on “Squawk Box,” said the school was “very, very focused” on finding a way to safely conduct in-person classes for its roughly 2,000 students. He said leadership was “cautiously optimistic” that it could happen, while stressing the role that Covid-19 testing and other health considerations will play. 

High education institutions across the U.S. are making those same considerations as they plan for the autumn academic period. After shifting to online classes this spring because of the public health crisis, the focus is now on whether students can safely return to campus this fall. 

Testing and contact tracing will surely be a part of any plan to hold in-person classes, university leaders have told CNBC. And many acknowledge that large lectures will likely not take place, either. The 23-campus California State University System announced Tuesday that most fall semester classes will be held online, with some exceptions for research labs.

White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that university leaders should not plan for the fall as if there will be a vaccine for Covid-19, or an effective treatment, available. “The idea of having treatments available, or a vaccine, to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something of a bit of a bridge too far,” Fauci said at a Senate hearing.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, said Wednesday on “Squawk Box” that he believes it may be possible to hold in-person classes in the fall “because I’m hopeful that coming off of July and August, we’re going to see some declines in cases in the summer.” 

In contrast to Diamond’s suggestion that Colby College may delay its start, William Dudley, president of Washington and Lee University in Virginia, told CNBC that the school is considering beginning its fall term earlier than scheduled.

Some people have expressed concerns about students coming and going from campus for breaks and other events, possibly contracting the virus while they are away and reintroducing it to the school community. 

“We’re thinking about whether we might come back a few weeks early, which would let us get the whole semester in before Thanksgiving so students don’t need to leave for break and come back,” Dudley said Wednesday on “The Exchange.” “They would just come here in August and stay straight through until the semester is done.” 

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina.

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