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WCU staff to consider making request to cancel in-person instruction

An emergency Western Carolina University faculty Senate meeting is scheduled for August 10th via zoom to discuss the fate of Fall courses. Dr. Kadie Otto, WCU Faculty Chair called the meeting so staff could consider a resolution that would call on the WCU administration to drop plans for return to residential instruction for Fall 2020 and open in an online instructional delivery.

The resolution was authored by Dr. Yancey Gulley (CEAP) and recognizes that WCU administration has constraints by the UNC System on what modality it can offer for instruction, yet calls for the choice of instructional delivery to be at the discretion of the individual institutions. The resolution is also an expression of concern for the health and safety of WCU students, faculty and staff as well as members of the surrounding community given the current trajectory of community spread.

WCU has already seen students positive for the virus, when a select group of WCU athletes returned to campus over the summer. Initial tests of the athletes showed seven out of 145 positives for COVID19, however the testing of athletes were done prior to allowing summer workouts to begin. All athletes were tested and then quarantined while waiting for test results. The students who tested positive were placed in isolation. Average students and staff returning to campus for classes scheduled to begin on August 17 will not be required to be tested.

After the meeting notice was sent to faculty today, WCU Communications and Marketing staff member Geoff Cantrell sent out a statement from WCU along with information about the current function of classes on campus.

“Western Carolina University values its commitment to shared governance and respects the role of the faculty to bring recommendations forward to the university leadership,” said Cantrell as part of the University’s response. “Decisions about the residential operations for fall 2020 have been and will continue to be made in the context of current regional conditions and in conjunction with the UNC System president and Board of Governors. The university continues to execute its plan to accommodate students in our residence halls and provide quality instruction that is delivered in traditional in-person, hybrid and online modalities.”

Cantrell also stated that if the current plan changes, WCU will address it at that time.

“Should the need arise, campus officials will make decisions about housing and dining services, including refunds, consistent with guidance from the UNC System,” said Cantrell. “Further information on fall billing and refunds can be found at https://www.wcu.edu/operations-procedures/fall-billing.aspx.”

Like public schools across the country, the Fall semester for WCU will look different than anything the university has experienced before.

Residential living move-in began Saturday, Aug. 1, with coordinated measures of physical distancing, frequent sanitizing and other health measures in place, and no disruptions or problems were experienced, according to Keith Corzine, associate vice chancellor for campus services. “The smaller numbers of available appointment slots per residence hall allows for a social distanced move-in process that would not otherwise be possible,” he said. “So far, we are extremely pleased with how the move-in process has gone.”

As it stands, classes at WCU will be traditional classroom, online instruction and hybrid delivery – and will begin Monday, Aug. 17. For activities with a physical presence, facial coverings will be required and limited gatherings will be the norm, while other events typically associated with the resumption of a semester could be modified or suspended.

For example, new students will receive information online about campus organizations and community resources available to them. A dedicated webpage has been established to keep the campus community and the region updated on WCU functions.

There will be no fall break and the last day of in-person classes will be Friday, Nov. 20. Classes on Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24, which are immediately prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, will be held online.

“This schedule maximizes instructional time in the early fall and minimizes the opportunities for students, as well as faculty and staff, to travel away from campus on extended breaks,” said WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown. “This strategy should reduce exposure to and spread of coronavirus.”

Enrollment for the semester is experiencing some effects from the pandemic, said Phil Cauley, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment, who is anticipating increased graduate and distance student enrollment.

Forecasting enrollment is akin to tracking a tropical depression as it approaches shore — and in this case, we have to calculate the potential impact of the COVID storm,” Cauley said. “The pandemic potentially could interrupt successive surges the university has experienced in fall total enrollment, if enough students choose to delay or discontinue enrollment, or WCU may yet celebrate surpassing last year’s record enrollment of 12,167. Interestingly, we’re seeing a bump in applications for spring 2021.”

The official fall enrollment numbers will be established Friday, Aug. 28, the census date as specified by the University of North Carolina System.

“Because of the unprecedented challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic and the high priority of both sustaining the well-being of our campus community and implementing the academic mission of WCU, we plan to restrict or cancel most large-venue and mass-gathering programs and events for the fall semester,” said Sam Miller, vice chancellor for student affairs. “We will continue to monitor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as the semester unfolds and will make additional changes as warranted by the circumstances.”

The first step for returning students, as well as commuter students, faculty and staff, is receiving a “Catamounts Care” packet, which contains reusable cloth face coverings, a large container of sanitizing wipes, a refillable bottle of hand sanitizer, a thermometer and a copy of WCU pandemic standards.

“Cat Tran” campus transportation is again fully operational, with the following restrictions in place:
* Shuttles will run at 50 percent of normal seating capacity to allow social distancing.
* Passengers and drivers will be required to wear a face covering at all times.
* Eating or drinking will not be permitted on buses.
* Plexiglas barriers have been installed between the driver’s seat and the passenger seating area.
* Shuttle cleaning procedures have been established in accordance with CDC guidelines for public transit.

Such stringent protocols, social distancing and cleaning procedures also have been implemented across campus in public areas, classrooms and offices. Dining halls will have limited seating and provide take-out meals. No outside visitors will be allowed in residence halls and only one guest will be allowed in a residence hall room at a time. Classroom and lab space have been reevaluated, with space between occupants increased and capacity decreased.

WCU is continually updating the general public and campus community on fall 2020 operations at
info.wcu.edu/fall2020.

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