The University of Washington is planning to open its three campuses to in-person instruction this fall, and may also teach the second half of its summer session in person, UW President Ana Mari Cauce said during a virtual town hall Friday.
But classes will likely be very different, Cauce said. “I don’t think any university leader can say it’s going to be business as usual, or back to normal.”
The changes might include switching to online delivery of lectures normally given in large lecture halls, and doing frequent COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, as well as health surveillance in the dorms, she said.
The university expects to lose at least $50 million, and perhaps as much as $100 million, in revenue it would have received from student housing, food services and athletics, said Provost Mark Richards. The losses at UW Medicine will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he said. The university is also likely to see steep cuts in state funding, because higher education is a discretionary part of the state budget, “which leaves us particularly vulnerable.”
The UW was one of the first major universities in the country to switch to all-online instruction in early March, at a time when Seattle was the national epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Richards said he’s fielded many requests for the university to lower tuition, but that delivering online classes has cost the UW more than in-person instruction. He praised the UW faculty for the teaching job they’re doing, but added: “I will not pretend the overall quality of instruction is the same as it might have been in person.”
Cauce said the university is likely to put some employees on furlough soon, but did not give a number, saying furloughs would be “limited” and would help the university avoid layoffs later. Furloughed employees would be able to keep their health benefits and file for unemployment.
Cauce said running a university during a pandemic has been “the most challenging period in my lifetime” but that the university has been lucky to lean on expert guidance. “We have the top medical and public health experts in the country right here at the UW,” she said. “We’re getting the very best consultation and guidance in the country, probably in the world.”