Minnesota university life during COVID-19 to include dorm 'stay-at-home,' curfews

Goldy statue wearing a mask.
The University of Minnesota is mostly deserted April 21 in Minneapolis. The school is moving forward with plans to allow students to live in dorms but with restrictions.
Glenn Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP file

The University of Minnesota is moving forward with plans to allow students to live in dorms, but those dorms on the Twin Cities, Rochester and Duluth campuses will reopen under a four-step plan that, for the first several weeks, limits normal student life and imposes curfews.

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel outlined the plan during a Tuesday meeting of the state Senate higher education committee.

She said in the initial phase, students in university housing will spend the first 10 days on average in a “dorm version of a stay-at-home order,” broken only when they attend class, go to work, eat or exercise.

By the end of September, students will have to follow curfews starting at 9 p.m. Eventually, those curfews will take effect at midnight, with fewer restrictions on movement.

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“I don't think I could be anything but honest with you to say that that first period is not going to be much fun, right? It's not going to be zero fun,” Gabel said. “But it's going to be a very tamped-down level of campus life while we reintegrate on the Twin Cities campus and certainly in Duluth, thousands of students all at one time, into an ecosystem.”

Gabel said the restrictions on students are aimed at limiting COVID-19 cases. She hopes that by reopening gradually, the U may reach what she calls a “new normal.”

Ben D’Angelo of Maryland was happy to hear Tuesday that he could still come to campus.

“I don't care if I don't get the regular freshman experience,” D’Angelo said. “I just want to move on campus and experience some other new people no matter if it's a limited space and for a limited time.”

The U of M isn’t the only university system trying to keep students healthy, and keep them attending classes, period.

“Enrollment is tracking a 6 percent decline system wide, which will add to financial stress of our colleges and universities,” said Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra.

Malhotra asked the Legislature to help keep funding up for the state’s university systems, especially as tuition is frozen, to keep educational opportunities available to students who need them.

“The pandemic has impacted communities of color and economically fragile families disproportionately,” Malhotra said.

Augsburg University President Paul Pribbenow said the class of 2024 is the second biggest in the school’s history and the undergraduate student body is larger than last year’s, but there are fewer graduate school students.

Augsburg forecasts revenue losses between $3 and 8 million. The Minneapolis school provided credits to students who moved out of the dorms early last year. Augsburg lost international students because of travel restrictions and had to invest in new technology for remote learning. Tuition is frozen and, Pribbenow said, more financial aid is available.

"We are really presenting this as a epic historic moment for our students and trying to change the narrative away from what was a narrative of loss in the spring to one that says, ‘What are you going to learn here in this unprecedented fall that will in fact, shape your life going forward?’”