The University of Delaware is on-track for a full return to campus with in-person instruction this fall and remains "optimistic" it can hold in-person commencement ceremonies this spring for the Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020, which missed out on the opportunity last year, due to the pandemic.
University of Delaware President Dr. Dennis Assanis said commencements for the Class of 2021 would be broken up into several ceremonies on Memorial Day weekend, with public health guidelines in place.
"We will be obliged to comply with the 23% capacity limit that we have under the pandemic in the stadium; we're optimistic we'll be able to bring in each one of those ceremonies the graduate and two guests," said Assanis.
He anticipates a ceremony or ceremonies would be held for the Class of 2021 on Friday, May 28 and Saturday, May 29, with the Class of 2020 on Sunday, May 30. All ceremonies would also be livestreamed for family members who are uncomfortable to be in a large setting or are simply unable due to capacity limits.
"Especially, I want to celebrate this time with the Class of 2020--they hold a special place in my heart because the class of 2020 and I started at the University of Delaware the same year," he said.
Return to 'normalcy' this fall
Assanis is also anticipating a full return to campus with in-person instruction in the fall of 2021 with all athletics played in full.
"As we look at the roll-out of vaccines and the decline in new COVID-19 cases, we are looking forward to a robust, safe, fall semester with an easing of some public health restrictions," he said. "We are planning for 95% of our course sections to be offered in their normal, face-to-face mode of delivery."
Some classes would continue to be taught online and asynchronously to give students flexibility to fit courses into their schedules. With the expectation that some new international students may not be able to travel to Delaware, UD will offer a robust set of online courses for those students.
The news of both an in-person commencement and a return to normalcy in the fall comes just a month after the University of Delaware controlled a COVID-19 outbreak involving hundreds of students. Thursday, in a virtual town hall, Assanis said the positivity rate was down to 1.2%.
An improving financial situation
The University of Delaware's budget deficit has dropped dramatically due to an increase in campus engagement this spring, budget reductions of $135 million, including layoffs and pay cuts, and $60 million in federal funding. Heading into the fall, UD was projecting an operating budget deficit between $228 million and $288 million. That budget deficit has now fallen to $65 million.
As a result, Assanis announced an end to the 5% salary reductions that impacted all non-unionized university staff since November.
"In addition, a lump sum payment equal to the total salary reduction will be issued to those who have been impacted over the past five months," said Assanis. "In spite of multiple challenges, you have proven yourselves to be patient, to be loyal, and dedicated members of the UD community. This has not gone unnoticed, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your commitment to our institution."