U moves spring break to April at Twin Cities campus because of virus

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt life at the University of Minnesota, rippling across the academic calendar and punching holes in the school’s budget.

Spring break will be moved from March to April at the school’s Twin Cities and Rochester campuses, U leaders announced at a Board of Regents meeting Thursday. Duluth, Morris and Crookston students will have their spring break days spread across the semester.

Separately, administrators and regents discussed the financial toll the pandemic has taken on the university. Associate Vice President and Budget Director Julie Tonneson said the school experienced a $65 million shortfall in fiscal year 2020 because of the pandemic. Officials were able to plug that budget gap by pulling about $22 million out of the U’s central reserves and using $24 million in uncommitted funds and roughly $19 million in federal funding.

“We are now assessing what the shortfall will be for [fiscal 2021],” Tonneson said. “It will be significantly larger than that.”

The size of the budget hit will hinge on some major variables, Tonneson said. If fall football were to be canceled a second time, or if the U’s campuses were to shut down and shift online again, the budget picture could be even more dire. Officials will present budget projections to regents in the coming months.

Students will also feel the impact of the pandemic into next year, with the spring break changes and continuation of campus social distancing policies.

Twin Cities and Rochester students will have their spring breaks shifted from March to April 5-9, coinciding with the spring breaks of Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools.

At the university’s Morris campus, spring break days will be broken up and spread across the semester. Crookston’s spring break will be replaced with one midweek study day plus two extra study days to be taken between the last day of classes and the week of final exams. Duluth students will take the Monday and Tuesday of their spring break week off, with the remaining three days to be used as study days between the end of spring instruction and exams week.

“Each campus engaged in extensive consultation with their respective communities and governance structures,” U Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson said.

The spring break delay at the Twin Cities and Rochester campuses will allow for more instruction to be completed before students take time off. There is concern that students may travel during the vacation period and bring COVID-19 back to campus.

Administrators will decide at a later time whether to resume some in-person instruction after spring break or fully pivot to distance learning, as they are doing after Thanksgiving break this fall.

The U’s spring break plan diverges from those of its Big Ten counterparts. The University of Wisconsin, the University of Iowa, Ohio State University and Purdue University have scrapped the spring recess entirely.

Unless public health circumstances change, masks will again be required in campus facilities during the spring semester, and 6-foot social distancing will be maintained in classrooms, meaning there will be less space for in-person instruction. Faculty will choose whether to teach their classes online or in person. The same conditions are in place this fall, and about 70% of classes at the Twin Cities campus are being taught online.

Amy Ma, student body president at the U’s Twin Cities campus, said the precautions will help keep students and faculty safe. But Ma, a senior, acknowledged that it “is a really sad way to end college.”

“It’s not at all what I expected for senior year,” she said.

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