Chancellor Dwight Watson held a Welcome Back Town Hall with other UW-Whitewater leaders via Webex Events August 19 to discuss what a return to class will look like for the campus this fall.
The chancellor had a warm welcome for the students, faculty, and staff coming back from a long hiatus caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, which forced an evacuation last spring. He stated that the top priority is to ensure everyone’s safety as classes continue to be held in person, hybrid and online. Watson emphasized safety while still encouraging excitement and engagement in the upcoming semester.
“The fall is always the start of something new: a new season, a new experience for all of our students and staff. It will be different, but it will still be the start of something exciting,” said Watson.
The implementation of safety precautions around campus has already begun with the Warhawks Return plan. People on campus are expected to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently, among other recommendations and requirements.
“Last week alone our facility removed nearly 1,200 chairs from Hyland Hall to make social distancing easier. Between 700 and 800 chairs with desktops were removed from Heide Hall and this work continues in all of our buildings,” said Watson. “Our classrooms are equipped with hygiene supplies, and they will be monitored and kept supplied throughout the time that you are in your classrooms.
The Emergency Operations Center/Resource Support Team continues to have weekly meetings with the Public Health Department, which will convert to daily meetings once classes begin. These meetings consist of analyzing data and considering outside factors that could potentially inflate the number of cases on campus.
Another important partner for this new normal will be the UW-System, which will help fund precautionary measures as far as testing, supplies, and any community safety necessities that may be needed.
During the Q&A portion of the town hall, Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs Grace Crickette went more in-depth on the resources that will be available on campus. There will be 70 daily COVID-19 tests available in three labs. The university is also leveraging an agreement with UW-Milwaukee totaling to 210 daily tests. There are also a significant amount of testing kits that will be available.
Looking into the future, Crickette believes it is important to continue a proactive approach for the safety of the campus and community. The school will be ordering a McKesson lab machine, which can be used for a multitude of laboratory tests.
“Creating a nimble, flexible, redundant system of testing is going to give our campus an advantage,” Crickette said.
Reporting of positive COVID-19 cases was highly encouraged through use of the UW-Whitewater mobile app. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Artanya Wesley said that campus community members should not shy away from over reporting and should call the COVID-19 hotline at 262-472-1362 if they learn of people who are sick. Trained staff can then guide the individual through the reporting process.
Besides health safety, other topics such as the university budget and athletics were featured. Interim Provost Greg Cook explained a new budget plan that would focus on program optimization. It is a process of identifying the highest and lowest performing activities for analysis of how best to make appropriate investments.
“We want to be able to serve the region in the same ways and amount, given that our revenues are declining and our state support is declining,” said Cook.
Cook said that it is going to be a faculty and employee based process to gather feedback and viewpoints. He discouraged speculation or rumor about what might come out of the process.
In athletics Interim Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Ryan Callahan said that right now his department is trying to figure out testing. Athletes are tested when they arrive to campus and surveillance testing every other week is required for certain sports.
The Williams Center and other athletic facilities open Sept. 2 with capacity limits for each area such as the cardio deck or swimming pool. The weight room opened August 17 and intramural sport sign-ups are underway. Interested participants can visit the Return to Rec website to reserve times for working out, attend group fitness and more.
In spite of changes due to the pandemic, university leadership laid out plans so that people can feel confident in their return to school this fall. Chancellor Watson encouraged perseverance and continuation of the positive Warhawk spirit. The campus community can participate in a modified Warhawk Welcome Week, student move-in on Aug. 30, and classes starting Wednesday, Sept. 2.