Chancellor Gow and COVID-19 task force hosts electronic forum addressing how fall 2020 semester could look during COVID-19 pandemic

Screenshot+taken+from+electronic+forum.

Screenshot taken from electronic forum.

Julia Balli, Executive Editor

On June 9 at 3:30 p.m. the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow and the COVID-19 task force held an electronic forum to address what academics could look like in the fall semester during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the electronic forum, the UWL community was able to electronically email and submit questions for the panel to answer.

To begin the forum Chancellor Gow addressed the protests against police brutality for the Black Lives Matter movement. “The cabinet and I are going to look at policies at UWL,” said Gow.

The UWL police use of force policy is currently under review to ensure that their policies are compliant with state law and industry practices.

Police Chief Allen Hill said all officers during their annual firearms qualifications will review the “use of force” policy and sign a directive receipt that confirms the officers reviewed, understand, and will comply with the policy.

The forum then moved to discuss upcoming plans for the fall 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UWL is planning for in-person courses that will have 30 to 50 percent capacity, mandatory face masks, and social distancing of about four to six feet.

The COVID-19 task force believes that they will stick to the normal fall 2020 semester schedule, however, the decision still needs to be finalized.

There is a possibility that the Cartwright Center will be utilized for a place where students and staff can pick up meals. There may also be mobile ordering available for the UWL community to pick up food orders.

Chancellor Gow then mentioned that masks will need to be required on campus, and the university will provide masks to members of the community if needed. Gow then transitioned the forum to the Q&A portion with Gow asking the questions sent in by viewers.

What exactly will classrooms look like in the fall?

UWL Provost Betsy Morgan responded that the university would like to do a 50 percent capacity in classrooms with mandatory masks. “This would be much better for our labs, particularly our science labs, where for instance you might have 24 students, and instead it could be 12 [students] in a two-hour session in two periods,” said Morgan. “We will be highly encouraging faculty who are comfortable doing so to think about a hybrid model.”

With a hybrid model, this means some portions of the course will be online, while other portions of the course will be face-to-face.

There will be more discussion about which courses have priority to reserving classroom space for face-to-face courses in July. “We have delayed when students can change their schedules up until July 27. Eventually what we will do is each student will get an email with their own schedules attached to them that give them a better sense of when they are expected to be on campus and at what time,” said Morgan.

What will study abroad look like for students in the fall?

All study abroad programs taking place in July and August have been canceled or postponed, however, there has yet to be a decision about study abroad programs beginning in October. “Bob [Hetzel], Emelee Volden, residence life, and Sandy Chapman will be having a meeting to discuss if we can stay as fluent as possible, and then also help students with those decisions, because the ramifications of not going in terms of their courses are large,” said Morgan.

Morgan also said that they do not want to bring study abroad students home like UWL had done during the spring 2020 semester.

How many cases, if UWL is testing people and find some prevalence of the virus on campus, at what point would we need to have everyone leave campus?

Dr. Abigail Deyo in the UWL Student Health Center responded, “I think there is a possibility that we need to be prepared that we find ourselves in a situation where we need to go fully online again.”

There is not an exact amount of cases that UWL has in mind for a full transition online again. “There is a lot of other different factors that go into that decision, and we would be working closely with the La Crosse County health department,” said Deyo.

Deyo said they would focus more on if there is a surge or spike in COVID-19 cases on campus, and if it would be too dangerous for students to be on campus, for a full transition online for the fall semester.

“I think that we all know that COVID-19 is here to stay, so we probably are going to have some cases in the fall. It’s how we manage those cases and keep our campus community safe that’s going to be very important,” said Deyo.

What will COVID-19 testing look like for UWL students?

COVID-19 testing is available in the La Crosse community and at the UWL student health center, “but it is expensive for our students right now,” said Deyo.

“We are working on getting a more cost-effective and timely test that would have a fast turn around time,” said Deyo. “We are working with both the health department and our local health care partners on that.”

Deyo said that the health department is not currently recommending routine COVID-19 testing on asymptomatic individuals.

In terms of having antibody COVID-19 testing that shows if an individual has been exposed to COVID-19 in the past, “the science is not really ready, we are waiting for it to catch up,” said Deyo.

Deyo continued saying that she wants to wait until testing gets better to know if antibody tests are reliable to use on campus.

At a point where a vaccine is developed and in use, does UWL have a vaccine policy?

UWL has recommendations for handling vaccines however there are no requirements.

“Students who are living in our residence halls are required to turn in that information [vaccine information] to us, but we are not currently requiring the vaccines. That is something that we are looking at for the future,” said Deyo.

If a student has an underlying condition, or has concerns about a family member that might be susceptible to COVID-19, can the student take my classes all online? 

Morgan said UWL is looking into making a plan for students if that situation were to come up to have an online schedule.

“Now there are going to be lots of hurdles to make that happen. Will we try to make that happen for the student? Absolutely. But for instance if all of the [biology] labs are going to be in-person there is not going to be an online section that that student can take instead. It could be that you could get an online schedule in the fall, but it might not be in every class that you previously might have taken.”

Morgan said that they do not want UWL professors to have to create two separate portions of the class for students who attend face-to-face and for students who attend virtually.

“Once we get to the end of July, and we know what kind of format it [courses] is, a student will be able to look at their schedule and if there are options for online they might be able to move. Then we’ll have a way for a student to request fully online,” said Morgan. “But again I cannot promise that it will be able to happen for any student who requests it.”

Is there a possibility of more furloughs, even layoffs, and what does job security look like moving forward?

UWL Vice Chancellor of administration and finance Bob Hetzel said, “At this point in time UWL has issued 15 furloughs. Do we expect more furloughs for this summer or this fall? I would say I do not expect furloughs are something that we are going to have to implement at the university as one of our financial strategies to manage the state budget cuts.”

Hetzel said that Wisconsin could mandate furloughs as they did in 2010 and 2011 for all state employees, however they have not heard any information like that at this time.

“At this point, don’t worry about a furlough. I don’t believe we are going to have to increase furloughs that we have at this institution,” said Hetzel.

Hetzel then addressed job security and layoffs by saying, “We are one of several institutions out of the 13 UW [schools] that are able to manage the challenges of COVID-19 and state budget lapses and state budget cuts.”

Hetzel continued by saying that UWL has implemented a hiring freeze that will generate $1 million in one-time savings and has implemented a travel freeze that will generate $1 million in one-time savings. “Those dollars are what we’re using to manage our way through the COVID crisis and any potential state budget cut that we might get,” said Hetzel.

Hetzel mentioned that in February 2021 Gov. Tony Evers will announce the state budget for the next two years. “We are going to have to repair at the UW system level across all institutions for the possibility of a large budget cut,” said Hetzel.

Lapses and state budget cuts will not result in furloughs or layoffs at UWL.

If there is a distance format in place for the fall semester, will there be a deduction in tuition?

“The answer to that is no,” said Chancellor Gow. “The reason for that is students will still get credit for the course.”

Gow said that if students are sent home during the semester again there will be a refund in dining services, housing, and parking fees will be refunded as they were in the spring 2020 semester.

What will life look like in the residence halls with COVID-19 precautions in place?

UWL Vice Chancellor of student affairs Vitaliano Figeuroa responded by saying that UWL is anticipating the “typical” occupancy rate. “However, a number of our common spaces will probably not be utilized to try to minimize student’s gathering,” said Figeuroa.

It is a possibility that students who work at the front desk in residence halls may not be providing as much service as they normally do to minimize contact with students.

“We will be expanding the move-in process to five days instead of two days. This is to encourage social distancing and try to provide the best possible experience for our students as they’re coming on campus,” said Figeuroa.

Figeuroa said that resident assistants within residence halls will be providing virtual programming for students. “We won’t have a lot of face-to-face experiences that we would have normally had,” said Figeuroa.

If someone tested positive for COVID-19 would UWL students be able to have the ability to quarantine?

Figeuroa said that UWL is working with the six hotels in the La Crosse area to be able to utilize their space for students to quarantine.

“We are also looking at Angel Hall, Coate Hall, and Wentz Hall as possible spaces if we need to quarantine our students. Lastly, we are currently looking at one Eagle Hall community if there is a large number of students that need to be quarantined,” said Figeuroa

What will Murphy Library look like in the fall?

Morgan responded that UWL would like to have Murphy Library open during the fall semester with appropriate social distancing measures.

UWL is still discussing a plan on how students and faculty will be able to hold and check out Murphy Library books and resources.

Will the Recreation Center be open at all during the summer and what will it look like in the fall?

Figeuroa said they are unsure when the REC will be open in the summer, however, the REC will be open during the fall semester.

“We should be able to have students swipe into the facility by utilizing their phones so it will be contactless,” said Vitaliano. “We are also looking at the possibility of scheduling equipment within the REC.”

What kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) is the university looking at purchasing, and what will be provided to students? 

Hetzel said they are planning on providing two face masks for every faculty and staff member.

“We also want to be able to provide in each academic building disposable masks that are available in case a faculty member or student forgot their mask,” said Hetzel.

Hetzel said that there is a possibility of plexiglass in offices and in customer service areas.

What are some strategies for people who are hearing impaired in classrooms?

Morgan said that if a student is hearing impaired and needs to read lips the individual should go through the ACCESS Center.

More updates will be coming in the following weeks. Chancellor Gow concluded the electronic forum by stating to send additional questions to him by email at [email protected]

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