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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

EWU announces plans for fall quarter; university presidents discuss COVID-19 impacts

Eastern Washington University students are reflected in a window on the Cheney campus on Friday, April 12, 2019. EWU’s board of trustees may declare a “severe financial crisis” this month as the university faces unprecedented drops in state funding and other revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Eastern Washington University announced Tuesday it will continue offering most courses online during the fall quarter, while some classes will be taught in person as public health guidelines allow.

In what they described as an “online first, maximum flexibility” approach, EWU administrators said they will maintain the ability to switch between online and in-person formats as the coronavirus situation improves or declines.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and community are our top priority. And that priority is guiding us,” EWU President Mary Cullinan said in a video announcement Tuesday.

EWU will allow students to live in campus residence halls but limit occupancy to one per room. The school will enforce social distancing and other public health protocols, and step up cleaning and sanitization. Campus dining operations will offer to-go options.

EWU administrators are taking cues from public health officials as well as faculty members with relevant expertise.

“The coronavirus situation, as you know, is changing quickly,” Cullinan said. “And so we will be sharing more details over the coming weeks as we operationalize our plans.”

Higher education institutions across the country are receiving billions of dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act that Congress passed in late March. But many school officials say that assistance won’t make up for all the money they’ve lost due to the pandemic.

Some schools have given refunds for tuition, room and board, and other fees. Officials also worry about potential declines in enrollment due to the pandemic.

The presidents of Washington State University, Gonzaga University and Whitworth University each have said they plan to reopen their campuses and resume face-to-face instruction this fall.

Cullinan, along with WSU President Kirk Schulz, Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh and Whitworth President Beck Taylor, discussed their COVID-19 plans in a virtual forum Tuesday, part of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages series.

They each described uncertainty about various aspects of the college experience, from the future of intercollegiate athletics to the reality that some students will be infected by the coronavirus.

“We are not contemplating a future that looks anything close to what normal looked like before this pandemic began,” Taylor said.