Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:
As we continue working together across the WSU system on the details of a plan to resume in‑person operations at all of our locations for the fall semester, I want to update you about some of the key decisions we have made as well as some of the issues we continue to examine.
First and foremost, I want to reiterate that protecting the health and safety of our Cougar family is of paramount concern. All decisions affecting the fall semester are being scrutinized from a safety perspective.
As part of our planning process, we are heeding the advice of health experts. We are consulting with our higher education colleagues throughout the nation, the region, and the Northwest. In Washington, we are working closely with the governor’s office, other state officials, and community leaders in all of our WSU locations as part of the quest to protect every member of our Coug community.
I understand that many of you are anxious about returning to an in‑person environment. I empathize with those concerns. In addition to implementing best practices in health safety standards, we will offer options to students, faculty, and staff when individuals feel they might be compromising their health by participating in on‑campus activities.
I am also aware of the totally understandable desire for more details about our plans. Know that we are intentionally being deliberate in our decision-making. Our goal is to develop sound, thoroughly considered plans so that we are not forced to backtrack from decisions once they are announced. As the summer unfolds and additional decisions about the fall are made, we will communicate frequently in order to share those details with you.
I also want to encourage you to attend our next COVID‑19 town hall to learn about the latest developments. The event takes place from 10:30–11:30 a.m. on Friday.
Here is a summary of our plans to date:
Policies to ensure appropriate physical distancing will be in place across all campuses and locations. These will apply to all in‑person classes, activities, events, and meetings. Room occupancy limits, foot‑traffic flow, and related considerations will be clearly indicated by signage.
In‑person gathering limits
No more than 50 individuals will be allowed for any in‑person group activities during the fall semester. This applies to classrooms, events, and meetings. The specifics of the restrictions may differ depending on the health situation in the communities where our campuses and operations are located.
Cleaning protocols will be in place for all facilities, including classrooms, instructional laboratories, meeting spaces, and offices used for in‑person activities at all campus locations.
Testing and contact tracing
We are committed to understanding the prevalence of COVID‑19 on our WSU campuses and at all of our locations as we make decisions about University operations. This commitment will include implementation of some form of COVID‑19 surveillance testing, which will be followed up with contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine of those who test positive. Measures will be in place to support students living in residence halls who need to isolate or quarantine. We will announce the details of our testing strategy on July 1.
We also will introduce a phone app for contact tracing as part of our return to in‑person operations. We have not yet chosen the specific app but we expect to share more details around August 1.
We will continue to work with local health authorities and city and county governments as we make plans for emerging from the COVID‑19 environment. On the WSU Pullman campus, for example, we are in the process of working with the local communities and private residential complexes on a common set of protocols to minimize the chance of a widespread outbreak of the virus.
Maintenance of an equitable and inclusive learning environment
We will continue our diligence in making sure every learning environment at WSU—whether face‑to‑face or remote—is equitable and inclusive. We have worked hard to address the inequities exposed by COVID‑19, and this work must continue with even greater intentionality moving forward.
We will implement a public health communication campaign that emphasizes everyone’s role in keeping themselves safe and, by doing so, keeping our WSU community safe. Every member of our Coug community must do their part—on and off campus. The actions of our community members will have a significant impact on the decisions we make about University operations and our ability to remain open. Promoting a culture of mutual care and compliance with health and safety guidelines will be a critical element of our plan.
Return to the workplace
We are committed to bringing WSU employees back safely to in‑person locations as permitted under phases 2, 3, and 4 of the state’s plan for reopening. The approach will vary by location within Washington, by individual circumstance, and by work sector. Human Resource Services has created a guide with much helpful information.
Instruction will include a Hyflex model, a model that combines in‑person and distance education delivery. Implementation of this approach will be determined by class size, a faculty member’s ability to be in the classroom, the unique requirements of certain courses, and the availability of technology, among other considerations. Among the key points under consideration that will determine the method of course delivery:
- Face‑to‑face classes should not be taught in courses that require seating for more than 50 students at a time.
- Faculty should have the option to use the Hyflex approach, offer a course entirely online, or offer multiple in‑person sections of a course (e.g., one‑third taught on Monday, one‑third taught on Wednesday, one‑third taught on Friday) that requires seating more than 50 students at a time.
- Many courses requiring a seating capacity of fewer than 50 students should be taught as a distance course if an instructor is in a high‑risk group.
- All courses planned for face‑to‑face delivery should have a backup plan for online delivery in the event that conditions require such a move.
We also are considering changes to the 2020–21 academic calendar to minimize breaks and to reduce travel, especially after Thanksgiving.
The details of our plan for the student residential experience on the WSU Pullman campus will be announced around the middle of this month. What we have determined so far:
- Occupancy levels will be reduced in University-owned residence halls and apartments.
- Physical distancing standards and cleaning protocols will be applied to all dining areas in all campus locations.
- Students on all campuses and in all locations should expect to see common areas of use (e.g., student union, recreation) open with physical distancing, reduced occupancy, identified foot‑traffic flow, and biosecurity measures in place to minimize virus transmission.
We are committed to ramping up on‑site research, scholarship, and creative activity in June in accordance with the recently developed guidance developed by the Office of Research.
In closing, I thank you again for your continued perseverance in the face of this daunting pandemic and all of the other woes that challenge our families, our communities, our nation, and the world. As we continue to support each other and draw inspiration from the dedication of those around us, I remain confident that better days lie ahead of us.
Kirk Schulz, President
Washington State University