BREAKING: WU to offer hybrid instruction for fall 2020 semester
Washington University will offer hybrid classes for the fall 2020 semester. Tuition will remain the same and housing is only guaranteed for freshman and sophomore students.
Dean of Students Rob Wild said that while a number of students indicated they would prefer to take their courses online, the majority wanted the opportunity to be physically in St. Louis in a survey distributed to the student body July 20. Approximately 70 percent of the undergraduate population responded to the survey.
“One of the things that we’ve heard loud and clear from our students is the desire to have, given the constraints we’re operating under, as much in-person residential education as possible,” Chancellor Andrew Martin said in a conversation with Student Life. “…This [plan] is really responsive to the stated needs and desires of our students.”
For those who will be present on campus, the University is planning a number of initiatives to ensure a lower COVID-19 transmission rate. Everyone will be required to wear face masks at all times unless an individual is in a closed space alone and everyone will be required to practice social distancing with a handful of exceptions. Individuals must also self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms daily.
Additionally, the University will have free testing available for students, faculty and staff. Residential students will be required to be tested once they arrive on campus.
While Martin said he could not discuss the particulars of the testing plan, he said that test results would be returned promptly.
“The testing regime that I’m confident that we’ll be announcing over the next couple of weeks will have test results returned in a very, very timely fashion…as opposed to test results that come back two weeks after the test, which are completely useless,” Martin said.
In St. Louis County, test results have been delayed and some testing centers are failing to comply with St. Louis County’s rapid-reporting order. The order says that positive COVID-19 results must be reported to St. Louis County within six hours and negative results must be reported within 24 hours.
The need for timely test results comes as Missouri has hit a record daily number of COVID-19 cases. St. Louis County tops the number of COVID-19 cases in the state of Missouri with 12,548 total cases reported at the time of publication.
“Optimistically what’s happening, nationally and in St. Louis, is that we have flattened and may be able to turn the curve in the other direction, and that would be a really positive thing,” Martin said. “ …We can’t control the pace of the world — we just have to continuously monitor the data that we have and be as transparent about how things change as they go.”
For students living in University housing, Residential Life will also work to assign each student their own room, per recommendations from the American College Health Association. All freshmen will continue to live on the South 40 as planned.
Sophomores with pre-existing housing contracts will be spread out across the South 40, North Side apartments and other apartments surrounding campus. Juniors and seniors who were assigned University-owned housing for the year will be required to find their own off-campus housing in almost all cases.
Upperclassmen who have special housing circumstances will be allowed to apply to remain on campus. The University has reserved 450 beds in apartments close to campus, in Everly on the Loop and in the Moonrise Hotel to house students approved to remain in University housing.
Circumstances that would merit housing for upperclassmen will include being an international student, needing medical accommodations and having a home environment with insufficient technology. The deadline for students to request housing is Aug. 5 and the deadline to cancel a housing contract is Aug. 31.
The plan explained that Residential Life housing will be limited to 65% of its typical capacity. Wild said that after juniors and seniors who meet the criteria are granted University housing, there will likely be room for additional upperclassmen.
“We expect, again there is no playbook, and there’s no model for this, but I would tell you today that I believe, even after we get all those special cases assigned, we likely still will have some room for juniors and seniors who would like to live with us,” Wild said.
The University has also planned “isolation housing” for those who do test positive for COVID-19. Wild said that while he could not confirm the number of beds or the location of this housing, it would be on campus.
“It’s been very important for us in our planning that we’re able to develop comfortable options for both isolation and quarantine,” Wild said. “We know that that’s very important to our ability to continue to have students to be here.”
While the University has committed to offering free testing, there will also be a contact tracing system developed with permission from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health and the St. Louis City Department of Public Health.
Academically, although the plan confirms there will be a mixture of courses taught in-person, online or a hybrid of the two, how these courses will be graded is still to be discussed. Grading is determined by deans of each school, Martin explained.
“One of the things that I can’t do as Chancellor and Beverly can’t do as our Provost is say, ‘we’re going to change the way in which we grade the curriculum,’” Martin said. “Beverly ultimately has curriculum responsibility, but the curriculum is owned by the faculty.”
Provost Beverly Wendland said that courses with a compulsory in-person component will be addressed, citing certain classes offered in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts and the McKelvey School of Engineering.
“So there are certainly some courses, especially in the Sam Fox school and the engineering school, where that sort of tactile hands on piece of the work is much more a part of the usual instructional modality,” Wendland said. “And there’s a great hope that the maximum number of students who need to take those courses can be here with us and do them in person. But, you know, given that we don’t know at what point we may need to shift to a completely remote kind of a thing like happened in the spring, everybody is prepared to make that shift in whatever creative way possible.”
With classroom plans still being determined, Martin confirmed that tuition would not be adjusted. Dining and housing fees, however, will be lower due to the shortened semester.
“At the end of the day, we’re offering a Washington University education by Washington University faculty,” Martin said. “And we’re thus charging Washington University tuition.”
The announcement raised the possibility of prorated refunds for housing and meal plans should the University return to remote-only instruction.
Wild acknowledged that no amount of planning can eliminate the uncertainty over how the pandemic will progress this fall. With that in mind, Wild said that no part of the University’s plan for the fall 2020 semester is completely set in stone.
“We have to approach this fall with maximum flexibility,” Wild said. “So we don’t know what next week will bring. And we’ll make decisions next week based on what information we have next week. The decision…is based very much on the most current information that we have to be able to make a responsible decision.”