May 7, 2020
Dear Faculty and Staff:
Spring is one of my favorite times of the year in Washington.
Flowers are blooming, the weather is starting to warm up, and the
sun shines almost every day here in Pullman. It is a welcome
counterpoint to the challenges we have faced together as a
community the last two months while dealing with COVID‑19.
I know it has been a frustrating, and for some—extraordinarily
difficult—semester. Yet your resolve, and the resolve of our
students, to persevere through this pandemic has been exceptional.
I hope that you and your loved ones are doing as well as possible
given the current situation. Know that you are in my thoughts, and
my heart is filled with gratitude for all of the hard work and
sacrifices you have made to continue advancing the University’s
As I begin to reflect on the current academic year, my thoughts
also turn to the longer‑term projects that I did not get to during
the spring semester as well as the priorities for fall semester.
For example, we need to finalize the WSU system strategic plan
and initiate an annual planning process for updating it. Later this
month, we will share the report from the working group that is making
recommendations about system roles and responsibilities, and we will
use the recommendations to develop a clear and concise action plan
for optimizing important operational aspects of the
WSU system. I also want to spend time with incoming Provost Elizabeth
Chilton to ensure a smooth and seamless leadership transition.
We will deliver the most appropriate instruction that will lead
to the best outcomes for all of our students during the fall semester.
For most programs, I am confident that we will resume some forms of
in‑person instruction throughout the WSU system. Indeed, several higher
education institutions have announced similar plans, including Purdue
University, the University of Washington, the University of Oregon, and
Harvard University. These announcements are met with tremendous hope
from many students, faculty, and staff—as well as with a healthy dose
of skepticism from others.
While it is not entirely clear what our on‑campus environments will
look like for the 2020–2021 academic year, there are some key themes
emerging that give us glimpses of the future reality:
- Protecting the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff
will be of paramount concern as we plan for in‑person operations. As
such, we will adhere to established protocols to address employees’
health concerns, including opportunities for alternative work locations
and telework. Students with similar concerns will be provided
opportunities to participate in online classes. We are committed to
providing a safe and inclusive environment for all of our students.
- Physical distancing will need to be part of our plans for the
entire academic year. This will apply to all in‑person activities—inside
and outside of the classroom. Additionally, we will continue to adhere
to the other best practices recommended by heath experts, including
environmental disinfection and frequent handwashing. Our plans will
be based on the assumption that a widely available vaccine for the
virus will not be available during the academic year.
- Any plans for on‑campus operations will need to determine the role
of protocols for COVID‑19 certification and testing of faculty, staff,
and students in accordance with established guidelines while ensuring
we address privacy and ethical concerns. Additionally, we will work
with our colleagues in higher education across the nation to share
best practices for maintaining a safe environment at our campuses.
- We will need to apply the four‑phase “Smart Start” approach to reopening
as outlined by Washington Governor Jay Inslee as we resume
more in‑person operations. Our plans must also allow us to flex if,
as is likely, the course of the pandemic shifts and the resulting
restrictions under which we operate change accordingly.
- The approach to classroom instruction will need to be flexible
to ensure physical distancing and the ability to adapt to individual
and community circumstances as the pandemic evolves. I have heard many
different ideas discussed by the WSU community that mirror those from
my conversations with higher education leaders regionally and nationally.
The ideas include “flipped” classrooms with small sections for Q&A,
creative scheduling (making use of classrooms and instructional
opportunities on Saturdays, Sundays, early mornings, and evenings),
and hybrid classes with some instruction online and some instruction
in person. Some larger classes may need to be mostly online.
As a community of scholars, we need to think creatively about
how to synthesize physical distancing and an in‑person instructional
environment for both large and small classes. I have asked Interim
Provost Bryan Slinker and Vice President for Academic Innovation and
Outreach Dave Cillay to lead system‑wide efforts to design ways to
create exceptional classroom experiences that accommodate physical
distancing and provide flexibility to adapt if circumstances change.
The specifics of those solutions will be tailored to meet the needs
of individual campuses.
- Research, scholarship, and creative activity remains a vital
component of WSU’s mission. Much of this work is being successfully
executed remotely. Our leadership is examining options for ramping up
research safely and securely from its current reduced level.
I know that there are and will be many more questions and concerns
as we plan for an uncertain future. Our budget going forward, of course,
is one of our chief concerns. While it is still too early to speak with
certainty about the financial picture, we will share that information
as soon as it is available.
Know too that I am in regular communication with University of
Washington President Ana Mari Cauce about the UW’s strategies and
approaches in dealing with COVID‑19. Likewise, members of our senior
leadership team are in contact with their counterparts at other
leading research universities in California and Oregon.
We will continue to keep you updated as the details of our plans
for the fall semester emerge.
If you have suggestions, please send them to me or any other leader at WSU. We need the absolutely best
ideas if we are to successfully resume any in‑person activities.
Here at WSU we have some of the smartest and most creative people
in the world among our faculty and staff. By continuing to work together
and sharing ideas, I am confident that we will continue to provide
our students with one of the best educational experiences in the nation
while keeping everyone safe.
Kirk Schulz, President
Washington State University