'We're stuck here': Cal Maritime resumes in-person classes, but students can't leave campus

VALLEJO, Calif. (KGO) -- After getting special approval by the state, Cal Maritime has officially resumed in-person classes at its Vallejo campus. Exactly 73 students are now back living in dorms as they finish up their senior year courses that could not be done over Zoom.

But like so much during the COVID-19 pandemic, students are not returning to normal university life.

"It's not quite prisoners, but it is the whole, it is that kind of vibe," Mason Wittels, a senior at the maritime university, told ABC7 News when we drove by the entrance of the campus on Wednesday. "I mean, we're stuck here."

All students, faculty and staff were tested for coronavirus before returning to campus. They all must go through daily health screenings, wear face coverings and social distance.

But it is only students that must adhere to the strictest protocols. Under the new guidelines, and in an effort to create a safe campus bubble, the returning students are not allowed to leave campus.

The guidelines outlined on the university's website, specifically says: "There will be no extraneous travel in and out of campus during the instructional period, including, including but not limited to lunch, personal errands, etc."

One student, who reached out to ABC7 News and wished to remain anonymous, said they feel it's too restrictive and doesn't make sense.

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"The bubble that's trying to be created doesn't exist," the student said. "We see faculty, staff, contractors and everybody else coming and going from campus every day."

ABC7 News asked the Cal Maritime administration about this concern.

"It's more of a control bubble. We know that it's not a full lockdown type situation for everybody," Dr. Donald Maier, dean of Cal Maritime's School of Maritime Transportation, Logistics, and Management, explained.

"That was part of the plan, was you can come on, you can finish your degree, but here's the rules and requirements you're going to have to abide by."

The issue hits at the challenges universities across the country are facing as they try to find ways to begin in-person classes.

Bob Arp, the vice president for University Advancement at Cal Maritime, said this plan is constantly being assessed and whether or not students returning in the fall will have to adhere to these guidelines is still to be determined. Still, he said they have a bare bones staff coming to work and he feels asking students to stay on campus is not an unfair request.

"I would question, what is it that is so pressing that a student needs to take care of off campus?" Arp said. "We have people, if they needed to pick up a medication or something that can be accommodated and taken care of."

"And again, no one is being compelled to come here," he added.

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The student we spoke to said there are many reasons students leave campus, including to see family, their children and partners.

Cal Maritime admits it's not a perfect solution, but they feel it's the best one.

"Definitely we can understand that if I'm confined to my office day after day it is going to start wearing me out," Maier said. "But the benefit at the end is I'll have my degree, I'll be able to finish my program."

And for some students, like Wittels, they're just relieved it's not Zoom University.

"You can't drive a boat on Zoom," he said.
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