COVID 19: Together, we can do so much

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

While times of crisis bring on understandable anxiety, stress, and immense challenges, moments like the one we are living right now also bring out the best in human nature.

As you know, we as a university community have had to make a series of very difficult decisions during the past two weeks as we navigate the effects of COVID‑19. We have regrettably, and sadly, upended the spring semester plans of thousands of our students, faculty, and staff.

But the current situation demands decisions of a magnitude most of us have never had to face in our lifetime. We likely will need to continue making decisions of a similar nature for the foreseeable future. For that, we are truly sorry.

In the midst of the fallout from this pandemic, one thing is very clear: everyone throughout the WSU system has stepped up and adapted to our new reality. Your willingness to come together to problem solve on behalf of our community has been inspiring to your colleagues, your peers, and to me personally.

I am grateful to all of you. Down the road, when WSU’s stakeholders look back at this point in history, they will remember that the University’s faculty, staff, and students rose to the occasion, demonstrating the resolve and practical problem-solving skills that define the fundamental character of our community.

Throughout all of the ongoing conversations we are having across the WSU system, the focus has remained clear: how do we protect the health of our students, our faculty, and our staff while meeting, as best we can, the missions of our University. Our community statewide has rallied in every way imaginable to advance those two goals.

Among the many examples of these phenomenal actions:

  • Since March 6 the Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI) team has offered training 3 times daily to help faculty across the WSU system set up classes for online delivery. This week, AOI added a fourth session. More than 600 faculty have participated in the 40‑plus training sessions held to date.
  • Human Resource Services has provided COVID‑19 related informational sessions to more than 600 faculty and staff via Zoom already, with more sessions scheduled in the upcoming weeks.
  • Our International Programs study abroad staff continue to closely monitor updates from countries where we have students and faculty abroad, communicating critical updates as needed. They continue to work with partnering organizations and universities to make arrangements in the best interests of our students’ health, safety, financial well‑being, and academic progress.
  • The custodial crews at all of our campuses have been exceptional, increasing their efforts to disinfect high‑traffic areas and expand social distance in physical spaces. At WSU Pullman, our window-washing crews have joined this effort, embracing the opportunity to disinfect public areas in buildings normally only serviced during the evening.
  • All of our campuses are making efforts to ensure students who are dealing with housing and food security get the help they need. In particular, our Cougs Feeding Cougs programs across the system have stepped up their services during this time. WSU Pullman Dining Services as well as Housing and Residential Life staff have worked tirelessly to ensure services are uninterrupted.

As I reflect on our current challenges and our system‑wide responses, I am reminded that our actions reflect the essence of our land‑grant heritage. We not only are acting to protect the immediate WSU community, but also to serve the common good, a focus the University has remained committed to for 130 years.

As we continue with distance delivery of classes next week, it may be helpful to consider this larger context as we go about the teaching/learning process. For the knowledge our students are gaining applies not only to their personal aspirations. It will make a difference in how society in the broadest sense responds not only to this pandemic, but to future crises.

System‑wide COVID‑19 town hall March 27

I know many of you have questions about what’s next for the University. All of us are concerned about finances, staffing, grades, commencement, research, and related issues. To bring you up‑to‑date and to answer many of your questions, Provost Bryan Slinker, Vice President of Student Affairs Mary Jo Gonzales, Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer Theresa Elliot‑Cheslek, and I will hold an online town hall at 11 a.m. Friday, March 27. To attend, simply go to the WSU Experience website. Questions may be submitted in advance.

In the meantime, please continue to follow the wellness guidelines suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Washington State Department of Health. Our own COVID‑19 website is updated continually with the latest news about how the University is responding to the ramifications of the virus.

I think of Helen Keller’s inspiring words at a time like this: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” All of you have proven the accuracy of that sentiment a thousand times over. May we continue to act in that spirit during the days ahead.

With much gratitude,

Kirk Schulz, President
Washington State University