Texas Tech University

Face Masks, Social Distancing, Compliance Highlight First Day of Fall at Texas Tech

George Watson

August 25, 2020

The university opened for the semester with widespread adherence to new policies instituted to prevent spread of COVID-19 while providing an exceptional learning experience.

In many ways, the first day of classes on the campus of Texas Tech University looked like many others in its 97-year history – students trying to find classes, places to park, catching the bus or finding something to eat before beginning the day.

In reality, it was unlike any other first day any of the students, or any others who have walked the campus, have ever experienced. The policies and procedures implemented by Texas Tech due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced changes in how and where classes were delivered. President Lawrence Schovanec even spent time Monday (Aug. 24) morning driving around campus, and what he saw was encouraging.

"I was very proud of our students," Schovanec said. "It's not perfect, but the compliance is very good, and I am extremely grateful for their cooperation and that of our staff and faculty."

student on bike
A Texas Tech student passes a sign reminding students that face masks are mandatory on campus during the fall semester.

Prior to classes beginning, Texas Tech implemented stringent guidelines for students, faculty and staff as well as social-distancing and cleaning policies for classrooms, all of which can be found on the Texas Tech Commitment website. The hope is to prevent and mitigate any spread of the coronavirus that caused the campus to be shut down in the spring and all learning modalities moved online.

On Monday, Schovanec said 61% of all classes being taught at Texas Tech for the fall semester have some degree of face-to-face instruction, 24% of that being hybrid with a mixture of face-to-face and online. For first-year students, 72% of classes offered some degree of face-to-face instruction.

He also touted Texas Tech's continued rise in student retention as a sign that student success has been maintained in spite of COVID-19. He said first-year retention has increased by 1% over a year ago to nearly 88% and second-year retention is up 2%.

Ensuring the campus remains open and students continue to be able to learn in person has been the focus of the administration since the campus closed in March, and Schovanec said he is pleased to see so many students taking to heart the university's messaging regarding the need to follow safety protocols.

"It's not just the students, it's the faculty and staff as well," Schovanec said. "We have this responsibility to each other, not only on campus but especially in our behavior while off campus.

"In spite of all of our planning, our protocol and our policies we've implemented, I think we have to be very concerned that parties or large gatherings, where there is careless behavior, could jeopardize our reopening plans, and our plans for having sports, more specifically, football."

student studying
A masked student works on her computer between classes on the first day of the fall semester at Texas Tech.

Texas Tech also has created an online dashboard to track the number of positive cases reported by students, faculty and staff. Schovanec said he was encouraged by the low positivity rate from the free coronavirus testing conducted in August through the Texas Department of Emergency Management when compared to some other universities that already have changed from face-to-face back to online learning.

Schovanec is confident the compliance shown on the first day of classes will extend throughout the semester, but reiterated Texas Tech is prepared to change if necessary. He said, however, that rather than a massive return to online like last spring, they have planned for different scenarios that include the idea of 'micro closures,' or a limited time period

Judging by how things went on Monday, however, Texas Tech's plans for reopening have made a positive impact and been well received.

"I heard from a Spanish professor this morning," Schovanec said. "He was teaching a course in an engineering building and wrote to say how impressed he was by the organization of the classroom and the manner in which the students were respecting our health and safety policies. What was particularly impactful was the professor's comment that he felt he could see in the eyes of students, just visible over their masks, their excitement and appreciation to have face-to-face instruction again. We hope that is a sentiment shared by all students and the experience will be there for them throughout the semester."