What will college look like in the fall? Two presidents talk about classes, sports

Some universities preparing for hybrid learning in fall

Washington colleges and universities are trying to figure out what the fall term will look like during a pandemic, but many presidents agree it will involve a lot of flexibility and consultation with public health officials.

“We're really planning to do an in-person, instructional experience in Pullman and all of our campus locations in the fall,” Washington State University President Kirk Schulz said, adding that campus life will look very different from years past.

“August of 2020 will not look exactly like it did in August of 2019,” he said. “Social distancing will certainly apply. We believe people are going to have to have personal protective equipment, things like that.”

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Schulz said large classes are probably out.

“We're going to see a lot of flipped classrooms where maybe some part of the lecture is done in an online format and then you have smaller sections of-in person instructions where we take that 200 -seat classroom and we only have 25 people in there,” he said.

Labs or activities, he said, may be held on weekends to use space better. It’s an idea echoed by Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh.

“We are at least beginning the discussions about extending the class weeks,” he said, “so that we’re taking advantage of all seven days rather than the primary five.”

McCulloh foresees hybrid types of classes to accommodate students or faculty who are concerned about their health risks.

“For example, you could conceivably have a small group of students safely established in a single classroom who are actually receiving their instruction via technology from a faculty member,” he said. “You might find that some courses are online whereas others are in person. It’s going to be, I think, highly variable.”

Other universities, like Western Washington University, are planning for something similar. Its president, Sabah Randhawa, called it “a hybrid approach that allows for a mix of online and in-person classes.”

Seattle University posted online that "health and safety measures will define and determine how we address the range of issues, including the schedule, mix and size of classes."

When it comes to eating, students can expect more grab-and-go options, fewer seats, and even expanded dining hours, McCulloh said.

Schulz said he will be watching what happens as Seattle restaurants slowly reopen.

“We're going to be able to see some things from, I think, the commercial sector on what works, what doesn't, what do people feel comfortable with,” he said.

When it comes to sports, though, Schulz is hopeful about football at WSU in the fall.

“I’m still optimistic that we’ll play football this fall,” he said, “whether that’s in front of full stadiums or we have the tailgating experience that everyone sort of associates with college football on a Saturday, I think there’s going to be some changes.”

McCulloh was a little more cautious about whether fall sports would occur, calling it “a very big question.”

“We are working together with our athletic league, our conference, the West Coast conference, on these issues as well,” he said.

Schulz believes WSU can figure out how to keep players safe and test both them and the coaching staff.

“The question is, can you put 100,000 people in the stadium on a Saturday and still say the same thing about the fans?” he asked. Schulz said he will be watching Major League Baseball as it attempts to restart this summer.

As for how universities might do contact tracing, they are grappling with the same concern as cities and counties — privacy.

And while Schulz said an app is a likely solution, privacy will need to be addressed.

“That's something that's going to be important,” he said. “How do we balance out the public health need for contact tracing with legitimate privacy concerns that people have on how that data is used?”

In Seattle, the University of Washington expects to provide more details about the fall quarter in mid-June to early July.

Both Gonzaga and WSU expect to have more answers for students and families by mid-July.