Office of the President

April 24, 2020

As we face challenges ahead, the UW will put people first

Ana Mari Cauce

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed and upended our lives more swiftly than we could have imagined. It has sickened more than two million people around the world, including more than 850,000 here in the United States. It has taken countless lives and created economic chaos and insecurity for millions of individuals and their families. It has changed the way we live, study, work and connect with each other. Now, we are coming to grips with the fact that many of these changes and costs will be felt far into the future.

Thanks to extraordinarily quick action and advance preparation by our city, county and state leadership, as well as by health and public health care providers, managers, researchers, analysts and experts across our state, including many from the University of Washington and UW Medicine, our efforts to flatten the curve appear to be working. Assuming we continue sufficient social distancing and other preventive measures, it appears that Washington has passed the peak of COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations without having overwhelmed our hospitals, ICUs or ventilator supply. Because we reacted swiftly and aggressively to prepare for the worst-case scenario, we have been able to prevent it from becoming reality. Thank you all for continuing to do your part to keep the virus at bay.

Support for students 

UW students have demonstrated incredible resilience and determination to keep learning and thriving despite the constraints and hurdles created by the pandemic. We are so grateful for your commitment to your degree programs and the empathy and compassion you have demonstrated, even as you face uncertainty about your own futures. We are doing everything within our means to support you as you pursue your degrees.

The federal CARES Act provides some relief for students with the greatest financial need. Once we receive that funding from the U.S. Department of Education, we will be able to rapidly start distributing grants to students based on their financial need. We hope to receive our federal allocation and distribute that funding next week. The Office of Student Financial Aid has an FAQ with details on how these grants will be distributed.

Because we know the economic crisis has affected so many families’ livelihoods in ways not reflected on financial aid applications filled out before the pandemic, additional funding is available through our campuses’ Emergency Aid programs, which can also support students as needs emerge through the remainder of the spring and into summer quarter. Additionally, we have waived various student fees, including the U-PASS fee, late tuition payment fee and re-enrollment fee for students who took spring quarter off and wish to re-enroll in the fall or winter.

Planning for the future, including autumn quarter

As Governor Jay Inslee indicated in his announcement Wednesday, we will be staying home for a while yet; right now, no one can say with certainty when it will be safe to allow in-person gatherings of any size. When the state does start to ease restrictions, it will likely happen slowly and in stages. Our health care system’s capacity to do testing and contact tracing in order to prevent future waves of the virus will play a major role in the timing and speed of the re-opening.

We are closely monitoring how our state government, in coordination with the other West Coast states, is planning for the recovery. At the UW, we are assembling two task forces to outline when and how more UW employees can safely return to our campuses and to prepare for how students may come back to our campuses for autumn quarter. In both matters, we will consult with representatives of students, faculty and staff affected by these decisions and will continue to be guided by the public health expertise that has served us so well up to this point.

Budgetary impact 

We don’t yet know the full economic impact of the pandemic, but early indications suggest it will be significant, and that our state will face hard choices that will affect the UW as a public university. We’ve already seen financial impacts on units ranging from UW Medicine, to Facilities, to Housing and Food Services, as well as to our museums, athletics and performance art programs. All are losing income as a result of the pandemic, even as working conditions have become more difficult and in many cases expenses are even higher as a result of it.

Our budgetary decisions will be informed by state revenue forecasts later this spring, our best understanding of the potential for additional federal stimulus funds, and by what our enrollment expectations will be after National College Decision Day on May 1. While it’s too soon to say with certainty what our budget constraints will be for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, we have every reason to believe that there will tough times ahead, including budgetary contraction across the University. We have begun preparations by severely restricting any new hires and examining any and every opportunity for cost savings. I can promise that our values will guide us in all of our actions, and that we will continue to put the well-being of our students, patients, staff and faculty first.

Town hall on May 1

We recognize there are many questions about how the crisis has affected our current operations and what the future holds. Please join me for a live video town hall to address your questions at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 1. I’ll be joined by Provost Mark Richards, Vice President for Student Life Denzil Suite, Faculty Senate Chair Joe Janes and Dean of Public Health Hilary Godwin. You can submit your questions to presofuw@uw.edu in advance or during the town hall.

As in any crisis, one of the hardest aspects to endure is the great number of unknowns and the uncertainty about when we will get back to normal and how we continue to adapt in the meantime. I share your concerns and anxiety, but I have no uncertainty about the strength and determination of our UW community. You have all proven that you are equal to whatever challenges we face. You will be integral to solving those challenges to build a better future for us all.