Novel coronavirus information

May 28, 2020

Resiliency planning for autumn quarter

This message was sent to instructors at all University of Washington campuses.

Dear UW Instructors,

We are writing with an update on instructional planning for autumn quarter. Let us begin by once again thanking you for your patience, compassion and dedication to our students. Moving to 100% remote instruction this spring was no easy task, and we recognize your efforts. As we are now beginning our instructional planning for autumn quarter, we look forward to spending the next few months improving upon what we were able to accomplish for our students this spring.

You are likely aware that President Cauce has appointed two task forces to plan for the University’s return to more in-person work and to in-person instruction this fall. The Back to the Workplace group is finalizing its plans and will soon publish health and safety requirements for employees to ensure we all follow state and UW health and safety guidelines as local restrictions are incrementally lifted over the summer.

Based on this emerging guidance, the Back to School (“B2S”) task force, led by Vice Provost Phil Reid and Graduate School Dean Joy Williamson-Lott, is coordinating instructional scenario planning for autumn quarter with academic leadership — including the Board of Deans and Chancellors in consultation with Faculty Senate and student leadership. Their work is proceeding rapidly, and we expect to announce more definitive recommendations for autumn quarter by late June to early July.

Because of the uncertainty of the virus, the space constraints of our classrooms, and ongoing health and safety requirements for both social distancing and personal protective equipment in many instructional environments, we expect a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction. To ensure physical distancing, we will focus on offering in-person classes of 50 or fewer students on the Seattle campus, with larger courses likely to be taught remotely. UW Bothell and UW Tacoma will have adjusted limits based on their physical facilities.

The landscape for planning is complicated, and our plans must take into account the following considerations:

State and public health guidelines

  • Following the governor’s phases for re-opening Washington state as we implement our plans. As a reminder, King and Pierce counties and the UW are still in phase one, and any easing of restrictions will be gradual and based on unit readiness and leadership approvals.
  • Planning for fluidity, as re-opening phases might reverse at any time.

Classroom capacity, student needs and safety protocols
In order to determine space capacity, the B2S working group has asked all academic unit leaders to sort the more than 7,000 autumn quarter courses into three categories:

  • Courses that must be taught in-person, such as clinical, studio or advanced lab courses.
  • Courses that will be taught remotely because they enroll more than 50 students or are routinely offered remotely.
  • Courses ideally offered in-person but that can be delivered remotely.

Following the categorization exercise, classrooms and other spaces will be assigned as needed for potential in-person instruction, based on distancing and other safety protocols. Additional considerations include:

  • Prioritizing student progress to degree, such as “gateway” courses, required courses, first-year experiences, etc.
  • Ensuring students can complete their coursework, even if they are unable to attend in-person classes due to illness or higher risk of health complications from the coronavirus.
  • Ensuring the safety of instructors who are at higher risk of health complications from the coronavirus.
  • Mitigating the barriers faced by non-resident students who may be unable to return to their campus, as well as students with disabilities who may face unique difficulties with remote instruction.

Supporting living, learning and teaching
Formal instruction is just one aspect of the full student experience. The Back to School task force is also focused on:

  • Working with Housing and Food Services on multiple scenarios for students to return to residence halls and reimagined dining services.
  • Ensuring we continue to maximize the student Husky Experience by offering, to the extent possible, clubs, sports, arts, career services and community service activities, whether in-person or remotely.
  • Increasing our capacity for advising and instructional support by building upon spring and summer quarter experiences.

In the coming weeks we will begin to share with the campus community a framework to help correlate our likely modes of instruction and other actions on the academic front with the governor’s phases of re-opening. As always, ideas and feedback will be welcomed and considered.

This academic year has been like no other. And the science tells us that, short of a vaccine or cure, universities will operate with COVID-19 precautions and mitigations through the 2020-21 academic year. We have much work to do. In order to remain resilient as we prepare for autumn quarter, we will all need to remain flexible and tolerant of less-than-ideal circumstances.

Again, we appreciate your patience and goodwill in the face of unprecedented levels of uncertainty, and especially your commitment to the welfare and progress of our students.

Thank you, again, and please stay safe!


Mark Richards
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor, Earth and Space Sciences

Joseph Janes
Chair, Faculty Senate
Associate Professor, Information School