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News >  Spokane

WSU, EWU moving classes online due to coronavirus concerns

UPDATED: Thu., March 12, 2020

Washington State University’s main campus in Pullman is seen in August 2011. The university is moving most courses online due to concerns about the novel coronavirus. (Alan Berner / AP)
Washington State University’s main campus in Pullman is seen in August 2011. The university is moving most courses online due to concerns about the novel coronavirus. (Alan Berner / AP)

Washington State University and Eastern Washington University are moving most courses online due to concerns about COVID-19.

Professors will teach by live video conferencing and prerecording lectures to share with students, among other modes of communication. The move will affect tens of thousands of students.

Both universities announced the shift to online instruction Wednesday, shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency order banning all gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. The University of Washington and Western Washington University previously took the same step.

The shift will apply indefinitely to all five of WSU’s campuses: Pullman, Vancouver, Everett, Spokane and the Tri-Cities. With few exceptions, students will not gather in classrooms when they return from spring break on March 23. The break begins this weekend.

At EWU, the changes are “effective immediately,” President Mary Cullinan said in an email to students, faculty and staff Wednesday afternoon.

“All academic operations, to the fullest extent possible, will be moved online through the remainder of the current academic year. This includes classes, academic advising and educational activities,” Cullinan said. “Those classes and labs that cannot be moved online must not exceed 25 people.”

All other gatherings at EWU that can’t be held online or by phone will be canceled or postponed, Cullinan said. All university-sponsored travel will be restricted, and any exceptions will require approval from EWU’s provost or a vice president.

Additionally, EWU leaders are considering delaying the spring quarter, which is scheduled to begin March 30. Cullinan said “discussions will continue regarding major university events,” including the next commencement ceremony, the Get Lit! literature festival and the Undergraduate Research and Creative Works Symposium.

“We acknowledge that these decisions will have a real impact upon how the university operates, and that there are no easy or simple solutions,” Cullinan said. “This is our time, as an institution of higher learning and a major community partner in our region, to take the lead in addressing a public health crisis.”

WSU previously moved classes online for students at its Everett campus. On Tuesday, the dean of WSU’s Murrow College of Communication in Pullman announced a student had been tested for the presence of the novel coronavirus. Results of that test are expected in several days.

WSU and EWU are not shutting down their campuses. Dormitories, dining halls and other facilities at both schools will remain open. Employees are expected to continue working unless they are sick or at elevated risk for COVID-19. Some might arrange to work remotely.

WSU spokesman Phil Weiler noted some 16,000 students live in apartments around the university’s main campus in Pullman, and many have ongoing lease agreements.

“I don’t expect that there’s going to be a mass exodus from the Pullman community,” he said.

Weiler said support staff from WSU Global, the university’s “distance learning” department, have been training faculty members in preparation for the systemwide move.

“We are well-positioned to make this shift,” he said.

On a case-by-case basis, individual faculty members will decide whether to teach some laboratory and studio sessions in person, Weiler said.

Across the border in Moscow, the University of Idaho plans to move most classes online on March 23 and March 24.

UI spokeswoman Jodi Walker said officials are monitoring the situation and will soon decide whether to continue the move online after those dates.

“Our IT department is confident that we can fill that need and deliver classes online,” Walker said.

Other Spokane-area colleges and universities are making preparations, but as of Wednesday they had not announced plans to cancel in-person classes.

In an email to faculty members Wednesday afternoon, Deena González, the provost and senior vice president of Gonzaga University, urged them to prepare for the possibility of moving courses online.

“In the event that a decision to move to online delivery is made, course content remains under the control of the faculty member,” González wrote.

Lorraine Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Community Colleges of Spokane, said a team of college leaders has been meeting daily to monitor the coronavirus situation, and the janitorial staff has stepped up its cleaning regimen for areas of campus with high foot traffic.

On Twitter, Whitworth University President Beck Taylor directed students to a coronavirus information page on the school’s website. He said those planning to stay on campus during spring break will have their housing fees waived, though a $20-a-day fee for cafeteria service will remain in place.

“Stay on campus if you feel safer here than traveling elsewhere,” Taylor wrote.

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