UW in a Time of Unprecedented Challenge

On July 9, Chancellor Rebecca Blank gave an exclusive update on the UW’s plans for the fall semester. During this critical and ever-changing time, the chancellor, along with UW leadership, has been grappling with the challenges around how to safely move forward and reopen this fall. Interactions are what make UW–Madison such a rich educational experience, which means the UW’s model of operation has been threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UW campus was rapidly closed just before spring break, and a mere 13 days later, 97.5 percent of classes were successfully operating remotely.

“Closing a large university is a big lift,” the chancellor shared. “Reopening is an even bigger lift.”

Fall Semester during COVID-19

The fall semester won’t likely be normal by any means; however, the university’s goal is to provide a serious educational experience. A full curriculum has been planned, and the UW will be functioning within a hybrid model. This means that larger classes will continue to meet online while smaller classes will be conducted in person whenever possible. Every department will have enough online classes that any student at any point will be able to move forward with their degree regardless of being able to attend in person. After Thanksgiving, all classes will go fully virtual so that students do not have to return to campus after traveling off campus.

Because overall health is important to the UW, all students will be required to wear masks during in-person instruction. Those present in classrooms will sit six feet apart, and faculty members will be wearing face shields. Additionally, every classroom will have cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers on hand.

The chancellor expressed that health protocols are at the center of everything for the university. Testing is number one in a three-part plan, including drop-in testing centers, weekly surveillance testing, and targeted testing for dorm residents and workers every two weeks. She also acknowledged that testing only works when combined with the following requirements: masking in all indoor public spaces, physical distancing, additional cleaning and handwashing, symptom monitoring, and contact tracing to prevent spreading of the virus as much as possible. The UW is prepared for all of these requirements.

Focusing on Student Safety

With concern for student safety, Chancellor Blank clarified that dorms will operate in a de-densified manner, allowing only two students per room coupled with special cleaning protocols and biweekly testing. Upcoming changes in dining hall service will include grab-and-go options, more distanced tables, and plexiglass barriers. Isolation and quarantine spaces will also be maintained.

“We can’t let down our guard,” added Chancellor Blank.

With that, students will be required to agree to a behavioral pledge that will focus on keeping other people safe. Across the country, wearing a mask has become the price of attending college during this challenging time. A social media campaign will also be launched to help amplify these important messages.

Financial Strains affect the UW

Shifting to a related topic, the chancellor warned that “The financial crisis is real, and this is worse than any state budget cuts we’ve ever faced.”

The UW will soon be hit with base budget cuts from the state, which will likely be very deep. Even with thoughtfully reduced spending, hiring and salary freezes, and extensive furloughs, every revenue source has gone down, so this is an especially difficult economic time.

On a positive note, 46,000 new applications have been received for the fall semester — a new record — and the university has seen a nearly 20 percent increase in enrollment deposits from underrepresented students of color.

What’s Next?

Chancellor Blank continues to keep an optimistic outlook and open mind, and she asks that the public do the same, understanding that any of these plans could change due to the vast uncertainty of our current environment.

Please join us for the next The UW Now Livestream on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. If you’d like to view a recording of this event, please contact Kasey Crampton.