In the latest Campus Conversation meeting on Friday, May 8, President Barry M. Maloney reported that, while much of the university’s focus since March has been in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, work has now shifted to the start of summer sessions and planning for a fall reopening of campus.
Typically held in-person, but now held via Zoom for the second time since the campus moved to remote operations, the meeting attracted 273 participants. Maloney took the opportunity to address the reopening of campus this fall, a much-discussed subject of many colleges and universities throughout New England.
Maloney shared his screen with participants of 10 groups that have formed to plan the safe opening of campus. Now called the WSU Safe Return Team, each subgroup is comprised of several faculty and staff from throughout campus. The groups include: academic contingency plan development, budget, communications, external relations, facilities, federal stimulus, mental health and wellness, recruitment, retention, and wrap around services/incoming students. Maloney specifically mentioned the health and well-being of the campus community and the Wellness Center’s remote service offerings for students and staff, and webinars for employee through the benefits newsletter.
Gov. Charlie Baker has created a task force—the Safe Opening Team—that is looking at all sectors of the Commonwealth, including higher education, and recommending a phased reopening plan for the state. It is anticipated those plans will be announced prior to May 18 when the stay-at-home order is set to expire.
For Worcester State, all scenarios for reopening campus are being considered. “We’re looking at blended courses—also referred to as hybrid courses—and that’s being vetted now,” said Maloney.
“I am in favor of opening, in some fashion, face-to-face. However, opening fully online is not healthy for the University, nor healthy for our students,” he said, adding that all indications point to learning to live with coronavirus for the unforeseen future.
“Testing and safely returning students to campus is of paramount importance to residence life and food services, as well as how we welcome the community to campus. Testing and tracing protocols must be established before we allow anyone on this campus,” he said
Maloney then discussed the CARES Act and Worcester State’s $4.2 million allocation: half is a fixed amount for student grants and the remainder is for institutional use in association with the pandemic. Cost analyses are being performed and additional information will be shared with the campus community.
As the institution looks to develop its plans for the fall, June 1 becomes a critical milestone date—the new deadline for fall admissions deposits. The traditional May 1 deadline was pushed back to accommodate students and their families to make decisions in the wake of the pandemic. It’s also a date associated with fall class resumption. While those plans aren’t solidified, what’s known is that declining state revenue will have an impact on the university’s fiscal year 2020-2021 budget.
To safeguard against a potential budget shortfall, the University will place a hold on all construction for three months, and institute a hiring, travel, and professional development freeze. Next year will be used as a bridge to analyze and determine which projects can be set aside and which can proceed.
The Zoom call was then opened to participants asking various questions that ranged from how classrooms will be configured to housing needs.
In closing Maloney gave an optimistic view of the future. “I believe we must be flexible: how we do our job and more. How we meet and greet guests, hold events on campus, when and how we meet student needs.”
View a recording of the entire Campus Conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4u0rt2EfRM