AKRON, Ohio — University of Akron President Gary Miller followed Governor Mike DeWine's recommendation to stop face-to-face classes because of concern over the potential spread of the coronavirus.
As a biologist, Miller believes the move to reduce large numbers of people interacting with each other could lower the peak of the virus.
"I'm a scientist and I can tell you it's not hysteria," Miller said. "I think it's a prudent strategy. It's a public health issue."
The university called off all in-person classes for this week and next week. Faculty will start online courses for its nearly 20,000 students on March 30, the week after spring break.
Miller said a key concern right now is making sure all students have access to course information through technology.
"We will make it available to them in whatever way we have to, even if that's a phone call or something," Miller said. "We want to get them through the semester with the right material in whatever way they can manage it."
However, the loss of face-to-face classes stresses out some students like Claire Struhsaker, a freshman from Akron studying to be a dentist. She's worried about missing labs.
"The labs, all the data that I use, I get by doing labs. I have to go in, so I'm not really sure what we're doing with that," Struhsaker said.
Heather Walter, the director of UA's the school of communication, said the decision by several Ohio universities to shut down classes in buildings is extraordinary.
"In all my academic experience, we've not had to do this before," Walter said.
Many faculty members are getting technology training-- such as teleconferencing and posting video links-- at the university's library in preparation for the switch to remote instruction. It's not clear how long online courses will last.
"Our faculty are getting updated, a lot of technical help right now to be able to take what they do in the regular classroom and transfer it into this space," Walter said.
University of Akron officials are suggesting that students not stay in their on-campus residence halls, but they are not required to leave.
Struhaker said some students find it confusing that they can't go to class, but can remain in dorms.
"I feel like dorms have like way more-- because that's where you're spending a lot of your time-- they would have way more germs going around," she said.
Miller acknowledged there is some risk to dorm living, but said the decision was made to allow students to stay because some have jobs on campus and some international students may not have a place to go.
"It's one of those things where you just balance out the biggest risk is in congregating a lot of people," Miller said. "I think it's safe here, especially if students are using aggressive, personal hygiene and following instructions we have. We have a lot of resources on our website for them to sort of check what to do if they're feeling bad."
University officials have said no refunds will be made for time not spent in residence halls. There has not been an official decision on whether students could get any money back for lost instructional time in the the classroom.
UA is also canceling all large events previously scheduled on campus from now until at least April 20.
There is also uncertainty around spring sporting events. Games may be played without fans and team travel outside of the state could be restricted.