Topeka, Kan. – This morning, Washburn University announced its plans for delivering face-to-face classes this fall in an email to faculty and staff. The plans were developed with the assistance of academic and staff committees who considered a number of potential scenarios in the face of an evolving pandemic. Washburn is planning to open on its regular schedule with undergraduate classes starting on August 15, 2020.
The academic schedule will, however, be adjusted to avoid a potential second peak of the coronavirus as well as the worst of the normal seasonal flu season in the late fall. As a result, the fall break will be rescheduled from October 10 – 13 and will take place instead from November 21 -24. This change will not apply to the Washburn School of Law or to Washburn Tech.
In addition, on-campus instruction is scheduled to end by November 20, 2020. Courses will continue after that date in a remote format until December 4 – the last day of regular classes. Final exams, assignments and class projects will also be completed remotely.
“We have heard clearly from our students that they want to come back to campus and that they prefer face-to-face classes,” said Jerry Farley, president of Washburn University. “While our faculty and staff did an amazing job in helping students complete the semester in the face of the pandemic, we think there is great value in the traditional classroom experience.”
Farley said that the community is responding well and that Washburn is busily enrolling students for fall. He said that Washburn expects a full freshman class by the time classes start in August.
“We are holding orientations virtually this summer so the timing is a little different,” he said, “but our applications are keeping pace with previous years and we’re hearing from many students who have decided to stay close to home.”
For those who want to stay on campus, the residence halls will all be open with some reductions in density. That includes shifting some double rooms to singles and spacing students out on hallways. The dining halls will also see some changes including social distancing and the elimination of self-serve options.
The university is preparing for a changed environment in the classrooms including organizing each space for social distancing, according to Dr. JuliAnn Mazachek, vice president of academic affairs. That will require some scheduling changes since classrooms will have a reduced capacity. What’s more, this summer, the university is installing additional technology to allow faculty to teach face-to-face and via distance learning simultaneously.
“Fortunately, we already have a robust online learning platform which we can use to communicate with students and share information,” Mazachek said. “This semester, we will be requiring all faculty to use that system to distribute any class materials rather than using traditional in-class handouts.”
This approach will also make it possible for students to keep up with the classwork even if they are ill. That, Mazachek said, is an important part of keeping the whole university safe.
“Students, faculty and staff are all going to be asked to stay away from classrooms and offices if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19,” Mazachek said. “We’ll also expect all instructors and students to wear masks, maintain social distancing and wash their hands frequently as per Center for Disease Control guidelines.”
The university is holding a series of online town halls with faculty over the next week to discuss the detailed plans and precautions. Mazachek said they will also discuss contingency plans to finish the semester via distance learning systems if a second wave of the coronavirus arises later in the fall.
“We are planning for all possible scenarios to ensure that our students can meet their educational goals during the fall semester,” she said. “Our faculty and staff are committed to providing our hallmark Washburn educational experience despite the challenges of this COVID-19 era.”