Third in a series on COVID-19 and studying in Spring 2021
Provisions are being made for students, faculty, and staff to return to West Texas A&M University this spring.
Beginning last summer, to meet diverse needs of faculty and students, a wide swath of flexibility was provided. Opportunities to teach or study online, on campus, or in a hybrid/hyflex environment were available. Capable, engaged faculty used the freedom afforded to respond best to needs for healthy and effective study. Latitude was creatively employed, and study options that worked best were implemented by individuals for individuals: A high-water mark for responsiveness. The results? Imperfect, but generally well-received. We gave it our best shot and will continue to do just that.
Spring campus life will not be “normal.” The college experience will not be absent, though. And history will show some aspects of teaching and learning were never better.
Pollyanna? No. West Texas lemonade making? Yes.
Some universities have planned for online instruction only. WT believes that freedom and varied avenues to pursue study and campus life safely will yield the highest attainment of educational aspirations.
WT provided weekly COVID-19 testing in the fall semester, receiving kits supplied by The Texas A&M University System under Chancellor Sharp’s leadership; we will continue to provide as needed. We also provided quarantine residences for students exposed to or testing positive for COVID-19 in the fall semester; we will continue to provide as needed. In total, 88 beds were available, split 44 each for males and females. At no time during the fall did we exceed the capacity to safely house students. With the cooperation of quarantined students, the food service provider ARAMARK, and the residential living staff, the accommodations worked successfully. It was not what we or anyone had hoped for; however, a safe place to stay with meals was provided. Challenging for many, but the Panhandle spirit prevailed, and what needed to be done was done, and things worked. Occupancy rates were near 90% for on-campus housing. It is early, but we expect the spring to be similar.
Intercollegiate athletics have been suspended at many other institutions but will continue at WT. Last summer, we committed to playing football in the fall to not interfere with spring sports. As a result, the Buffs played more football games (six) than any other Division II school in the nation. This fall, our men’s cross-country team won the Lone Star Conference for the eighth straight year.
Our excellent winter and spring teams lost the opportunity to complete their seasons last spring due to the pandemic. We will make up for it with a full slate of athletic competition beginning with basketball the second week of December. Volleyball, softball, and indoor track will begin their seasons the last weekend in January, while baseball, soccer, golf, and outdoor track will open competition in February. The campus will offer intercollegiate athletics all spring long as the circumstances of COVID-19 and the safety of our people permit.
We will limit available game tickets to 10% of facility capacity for indoor sports and 50% capacity for outdoor sports for those wishing to attend. Athletes, coaches, staff, and officials—particularly those in high-contact sports like basketball—will be tested multiple times weekly. Competition will only be conducted if testing results for both teams support play. We will cancel competition on an hour’s notice, subjecting neither students, athletes, nor fans to unsafe circumstances.
All services that support students will be available. Health care, advising (virtually or face-to-face), employment, placement, scholarship and grant services, and counseling will be provided. Students from our region studying elsewhere who chose to stay home this spring for family, cost, or safety reasons may register at WT for face-to-face or online study. WT staff will help select courses that will transfer back to home institutions and degree programs. We are professionals. We are good neighbors. We are here to serve. It’s what we do, and we aim to do it well.
We endeavor to create the safest possible environment for all. We did that in the fall and will use a similar approach in the spring—not perfect, but tirelessly pursued.
People place trust in us, and it will not return void. Trust is WT’s most valued investment.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at us, https://walterwendler.com/