Path 4Ward: How WSU’s president is leading the university through COVID-19


PULLMAN, Wash. – As universities across the country prepare for the start of the new school year, the safety of students, faculty and staff is the top priority. That’s the case at Washington State University as well.

“That is going to continue to be the most important thing,” said WSU President Dr. Kirk Schulz. “And that’s going to override all other decisions that we make.”

Schulz, who outlined some of the general guidelines for the fall semester on Wednesday, says social distancing will be a big part of the WSU experience this fall for its more than 20,000 students.

“We’re not going to have classes where you put 500 people in a classroom. We’re going to have much smaller class sizes. We think somewhere around 25.”

That means a mix of online instruction for larger classes with perhaps some smaller, in-person lab sessions. Campus buildings and classrooms will be clearly marked to helped students navigate safely.

“Anybody who’s been out in grocery stores or other things and sees that there are clear directions for how to go through buildings and facilities, we’ll put those sort of things in place as well,” said Schulz.

Schulz says you definitely won’t see buffet lines in dining halls either, as food service will also have to change.

“We can do these things, it’s just we’re going to have to plan them and some parts will feel different.”

A growing number of universities have announced they’ll transition to online learning after Thanksgiving Break. That’s something WSU is considering as well.

“We’ve got a couple of options on what you do sort of post Thanksgiving,” said Schulz. “Do you have like a project week and then you move finals up and then do finals online?”

And then, there’s the budget, which has devastated by the coronavirus shutdown. In May, Schulz put out a set of core principles for fiscal decision making, asking for 10% cuts across the board. And WSU could have to make more cuts after the state legislature meets later this month.

“It could certainly be worse, depending on how well the economy rebounds in Washington,” warned Schulz. “I’m a little bit more always of an optimist, so glass half full kind of person, but a 10% cut is pretty severe on our operations.”

He’s also optimistic about a full slate of Cougar football games in the fall. WSU knows it won’t be able to pack Martin Stadium for home games, but Schulz says the university may be able to safely allow a few thousand fans in the stands.

“We’re doing measurements to say how many people could you social distance and put in a stadium for a game? How does tailgating and all those kind of things work where you’ve got to maintain some social distancing and things like that?”

And with athletics, just like academics, safety will be the top priority in Pullman.

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