WWU Fall 2020 Update from the President

Published On

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 3:16 pm

Dear WWU Students and Families,

We hope you are all well and safe. I am writing to provide an update as you prepare for fall quarter.

You will recall that in May, Western’s Fall Academic Planning Group recommended a hybrid model of instruction with most classes offered remotely and approximately 20% of classes offered in person.  Unfortunately, since that time infection rates have increased locally, throughout the state of Washington, and in many states around the country. It appears that our nation is in the midst of a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, and it will take time to reverse the trend.

In response to the growing number of cases in our state, Gov. Jay Inslee recently extended the pause on counties advancing phases under the state’s Safe Start plan indefinitely, and public health officials are concerned that we will face an even greater spike in infections if we don’t take action now to limit the spread of COVID-19 among our students, faculty and staff, and in our local communities.

Given the alarming rise in the number of cases regionally and nationally, we have made the difficult decision – along with many other institutions in Washington and across the nation – to review our face-to-face classes for fall and move most of them to a remote environment, with limited exceptions for some experiential courses that can be taught safely in-person, such as applied performance classes and some hands-on labs.  We now expect to offer 8-10% of our classes in person during the fall quarter.

We made this decision with the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff foremost in our minds, and that principle will continue to guide us going forward.  We hope that making the decision at this time, well ahead of the start of fall quarter, allows you to make appropriate arrangements.

I know the prospect of moving more significantly to remote instruction is disappointing to many students and their families, particularly for our new students looking forward to their first year of college life.  I too am disappointed and sad that we are not going to have the fall quarter that we were envisioning.  Please know that we are committed to providing you the high-quality education that is Western’s hallmark.

Western is providing development opportunities for faculty this summer so that fall instruction might be informed of as many pedagogical tools as possible to make the learning experience for students an engaged one.   The depth of our recent and current experience with remote instruction has faculty across many disciplines finding new and creative ways to re-envision the teaching/learning process rather than just trying to translate a face-to-face experience to one applicable to remote instruction.

Western’s University Residences will open as planned, but on a limited basis.  We expect to be able to safely accommodate continuing students who have already confirmed for fall or who are on the waiting list, and students for whom university residences is their permanent or only home, or who have a compelling need to live on campus.  Please review the fall housing FAQ and take the appropriate action for your situation.  If you can stay at your permanent residence during this current phase of the COVID‑19 outbreak, we strongly encourage you to consider progressing toward your degree from home.

Health & Wellness Services will continue to provide medical and mental healthcare for Western’s Bellingham students.  All of our student services offices are available remotely, including Academic Advising, Career Services, Financial Aid, and the Registrar’s Office.  We continue to plan for the safe availability of on-campus activities, such as the Viking Union and the Wade King Student Recreation Center.

For students at WWU locations outside of the main Bellingham campus, we will follow the guidance and protocols established by our university partners as it relates to access to facilities and modality of instruction. 

We know this announcement will raise questions for families and students who are in the midst of making their own fall quarter plans, and perhaps the biggest question is around tuition and fee reductions.  Tuition will remain the same, but we are setting aside a portion of fall tuition proceeds to reduce the cost of attendance for those with financial need, and beginning this fall term, Western will offer a monthly tuition payment plan so that students can pay tuition in smaller monthly installments.

Western's Student Business Office website will have more details regarding how payment plans can assist you in managing your college expenses, and the Financial Aid Office is prepared to assist students and their families with grants and scholarships.  In addition, Western is also investing in technology support for students in need to ensure that all students can access and engage with their courses.  More information is available at Western’s Academic Technology & User Services Office.

Although fall quarter will be largely remote, student services and engagement opportunities covered by student fees will still be available to all students.  As we did in spring quarter, we are examining reductions in fees and expect to communicate those reductions after the Board of Trustees reviews and votes on fees at its August 21 meeting.

More information on which face-to-face courses will be moved to a remote environment, and those few which will be delivered in person, will be available on ClassFinder this weekend, and for those already enrolled in fall classes, you will receive a more detailed email update from the Registrar’s Office later today.

With so many daily reminders of how the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, it is tempting to let these next few months define our experience and our expectations far into the future.  Whether we like it or not, the moment we’re all living through demands adaptation in just about everything we do, but there will be a post-COVID world.  I invite you to focus on the possibilities you have in front of you.  In the meantime, the most important thing we can do is to ensure that we continue to provide high-quality education and that you—our students—continue to make timely progress toward your academic degree. 

I am glad that Western operates on a quarter system, which means we will have two-thirds of the academic year ahead of us after the fall quarter.  I remain optimistic that we will be able to pivot to a more normal academic year at the start of the new calendar year.


Sabah Randhawa

WWU President