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As classes restart at UT, new procedures implemented in lectures to keep students safe

But a protest on The Rock argues the university picked money over lives.

An X marks the spot where desks must stay put of the floor of classrooms at the University of Tennessee, just one of the many COVID-19 changes that greeted students on their first day back to class Wednesday. 

In classrooms, chairs are set 6 feet apart according to a seating chart that will be provided to contact tracers if a student tests positive. A taped-down blue line keeps wandering professors socially distant from students. 

In between classes, the university facilities teams will clean every room. 

"That's a monumental feat, but we're going to do everything we can to make that happen," UT Director of Auxiliary and Support Services Brian Browning said. 

To keep 6 feet apart, some larger classes will happen in ballrooms in the Student Union. Almost all classes at the school are held at least partially online.  

"Even though this is a different form of education they'll be getting, it's not a lesser form," Provost John Zomchick said. 

Zomchick said every professor must have a plan if the university goes entirely virtual, plus backups in their department who can take their place if they get sick or must quarantine. 

He promises online instruction that both costs and is worth as much as face-to-face.

"It's not a cheaper version of higher education," he said. "In fact, it's not cheaper at all."

But painted on UT's famous Rock Wednesday, a message of protest: UT chose money over lives.

Credit: UT

Student leaders said they were worried about what happens outside the classroom. 

"The most concerning part is what students are doing in their free time," Student Government leader Emma Kate Hall said. "It's what they're doing when they aren't on campus. It's what they're doing when there aren't university eyes or rules being enforced." 

Despite lots of planning, uncertainty lingers as classes begin at UT.

"Aren't we all nervous? Aren't we all nervous about what these next few weeks will bring?" Zomchick said. 

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