Second in a series on the reopening of West Texas A&M University in the midst of COVID-19.
A valuable part of attending a university for many college students, particularly those in their late teens or early 20s, is the experience of campus life. Long after graduation, graduates may not remember how to differentiate an equation, but they will recall important times of interaction in dorm rooms, libraries, lounges and outdoor areas, at sporting events, and a myriad of other activities and places that form a contemporary university campus.
We value the benefits of on-campus living. We are also aware of the difficult challenges that many individuals and families will make regarding housing arrangements, meal plans, and other aspects of campus living in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unknowns that populate the campus landscape are complex even when times seem clear and predictable. However, a murky, constantly shifting atmosphere exacerbates the challenges of clear-headed rational decision making. The challenges will persist for many in the coming months. I want to share five precepts that impact family and student decision-making.
First, WT normally specifies a two-year residency requirement for new freshmen. However, because financial challenges are faced by many families this year and compounded by the concern about the health and welfare of students, that requirement will be waived upon request. The campus residential environment is of great value, but each person must decide how they are best served in current times. Our commitment to treating others as we would like to be treated (the Golden Rule) is in force. Our goal is to create liberty that sustains physical, emotional, and psychological comfort for students and families as much as possible in this time of flux. However, please count the costs. What may seem to be a good idea regarding living arrangements could fall short of expectations.
Second, WT students typically register and create their schedules based on faculty, class timeframes, days, and locations. This year, students may apply until August 24, 2020, but we encourage application as situations become clear. Deposits and payments made by any admitted student will be fully refundable, without penalty, until August 23, 2020. Course schedules are adaptable for the following week. Likewise, similar deference has been offered to faculty. Concerns for personal and family health and safety have caused the University to alter hundreds of class schedules early this summer. This flexibility creates and requires organizational fluidity that demands individual patience for all involved. This is WT’s “New Way,” in response to a “New World.”
Third, as the semester progresses, if a student or family believes that either living arrangements or course modalities need to be altered in response to COVID-19 changes, we will work tirelessly to meet student’s needs. Additionally, if requirements from national and state offices or agencies require modification for living arrangements, the University will work to make adjustments in response to individual circumstances.
Fourth, at WT we believe student health, safety, and welfare are to be the forefront of all decision-making. Should a student need to be quarantined while living on campus, we will provide that in concert with applicable law and guidance. No student will be left “holding the bag.” When a student subscribes to on-campus housing and food services, we treat that contractual subscription seriously. We will do all in our power to serve every student in response to the evolving circumstance in this precarious environment.
Fifth, extracurricular activities, such as intercollegiate athletics, clubs, organizations, ministry groups, intellectual engagement through guest lectures, and evening activities, are all central to the on-campus experience. To the very best of our ability, we will make these activities available to students in a safe and supportive environment. Many students choose to remain on campus for the duration of their studies. Discussions are ongoing and fluid. Our goal is to have as full a menu of engagements for students in a healthy and intellectually challenging environment.
To the extent we are able, we will throw away every rule except the “Golden Rule.”
Agility for all, in all, from all. We will redefine flexibility as service’s supreme success. Inspired by academic excellence, human understanding, and compassion at every level, actions will not lead to an atmosphere of fear, but will forge a forthcoming and fresh crispness in Canyon’s autumn air.
New World. New Way. Always WT.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.