President M. Roy Wilson said a hybrid of online and in-person classes is in consideration for the fall semester at a May 21 Academic Restart Committee town hall.
It's uncertain what portion of classes will be online or in-person, but Wilson believes a decision will be made by mid-July to have the appropriate planning timeframe in mid-August.
"To say, from the very beginning, we don't have all the answers to all of it yet. When you think about it, that's (fall semester) three months away,” President M. Roy Wilson said. "We want to be guided by the science and the public health realities of the time. We don't have all the answers for phase two yet."
Wilson labeled the future as a two-phase plan. The first phase will be dependent on the state's upcoming decision and its reopening guidelines on May 28. Phase two will focus on the fall semester itself — whether employees and students will be on the campus.
"The restart will be phased based in emerging science and guided by real-time data,” College of Nursing Dean Laurie Lauzon Clabo said. “The lifting of the stay-at-home order does not mean we all rush back to campus."
If classes are online, Provost Keith Whitfield said students will not have to pay for materials that in-person classes usually provide.
"For courses that will require you to use materials in a classroom setting — whether it be a beaker or sulfur — those are fees we'll make sure students don't have to pay for," he said. “We want to make sure we don't assess any fees that would be for something you would do in person."
Along with WSU’s uncertainty regarding how classes will be taught in the fall is the university’s financial situation.
There’s a possibility employee furloughs may happen in the future, said Rebecca Cooke, associate vice president for finance and administration for health affairs. Due to state subsidies and enrollment numbers being in question, it’s premature to begin furloughing or laying off employees.
"Obviously, those are actions we are trying to avoid because they have significant financial damage to the people who are subjected to that," Cooke said. "These are difficult decisions to be made, but we're not making them yet. We're investigating options but not making decisions."
Whitfield was surprised to announce that enrollment rates are "ahead of pace," in comparison to where they’ve been over previous years, he said. Nevertheless, the university is trying not to put too much stock into it given the uncertainty and scope of the situation.
"Almost all the scenarios show some level of furloughs and/or layoffs will be necessary," Wilson said. "However, we want to be very clear not to make these decisions until we absolutely have to when the financial picture is a lot clearer."
The university is hoping to give faculty instructions by the middle of next week, which outlines whether their specific classes must be online or in person.
WSU’s goal is to allow activity levels to only reach 25% to 30% of pre-COVID levels in each building, Vice President for Research Stephen Lanier said.
President Wilson has advised people to continue working from home and to practice social distancing as much as possible. Those who must return to campus for work have been asked to clear it with their supervisor.
The university is working on finalizing two education modules, containing information involving COVID-19 and its transmission, Clabo said. All members of the campus community must complete the modules before returning.
"In the next several days, the employee daily screening procedure will transition to a new iteration called the Campus Daily Screening which will be completed by all members of the community who wish to be physically present on campus,” she said.
Wilson said there will be at least one more town hall to discuss topics such as the future of athletics. A date has not been determined.