All university notifications about additional developments with the illness, Widener’s response to it, or any impact on university classes or operations, will be communicated here.
I think it’s fair to say that we are all growing tired of uncertainty; of waiting for answers, for trustworthy predictions about what’s next, and for a return to the privilege of lives unfettered by social distancing and by fear. I don’t have all the answers we seek but I do want to update you on some key issues relevant to our work as members of the Widener community. I am certain of two things: First, the coming academic year will pose new and significant challenges for the university and for each of us. Second, we will rise above these challenges, adapt, and emerge stronger than ever. That’s what we do at Widener!
As you know, Governor Wolf last week extended the stay-at-home order for our region of Pennsylvania through at least June 4; continuing our designation in the red category. (Commonwealth guidance on color-coded phased reopening may be found here: https://www.pa.gov/guides/responding-to-covid-19/#PhasedReopening.) Also last week, the Department of Education confirmed that higher education institutions in areas designated in the state’s yellow category “are not authorized to resume face-to-face instruction.” Thus, we cannot assume that when our area is re-categorized from red to yellow that we will be permitted to resume face-to-face instruction.
We are planning for online instruction through Summer Session II, with the possible exception of health care programs should the state develop policy allowing these specific programs, in high-need areas, to hold certain learning experiences on campus. Summer camps and other activities will be offered only in an online format.
We do not know when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will deem it safe to resume on-campus instruction, but we are confident that our return to campus will have to occur in stages to ensure social distancing and allow for procedures to enhance safety. To that end, Provost Workman recently shared with the faculty that: We must be prepared to offer a quality distance learning experience for all classes for at least part of the fall semester. Even if students are allowed on campus, we need to be able to educate those who can’t attend in person because they are ill or immune compromised or because entire classes cannot meet together to maintain social distancing. All faculty must begin preparing courses that can be offered in multiple formats. To help with this necessity, deans are developing plans to support faculty in their course preparation and the university is offering several professional development opportunities during Bridge Week and throughout the summer.
The Crisis Management Team is actively developing logistical plans for our return to campus. A precondition for that return is the governor’s approval for face-to-face instruction. We do not have any indication of when that will occur but the fundamental principles for this work are:
- We want to begin to return to campus as soon as it is deemed safe to do so by state and local officials.
- We will be prepared for that return ahead of such notice by planning for the procedures, working conditions, equipment, and supplies that will be necessary to meet and exceed safety standards and mitigate transmission of COVID-19 on campus.
- We will ensure a high quality learning and campus experience reflective of Widener’s expansive welcome and care for members of our community even if we must continue teaching and working remotely for some time, or if we are back on campus following social distancing requirements.
To enhance enrollment, we have developed a wide range of initiatives to a) provide more flexible options for starting classes this fall, and b) reduce the cost of attending Widener as individuals and families struggle with the economic fallout of the pandemic. For some, these will include assistance with the cost of books, transportation and meals, as well as enhanced financial aid to meet overall need. Additionally, new graduate students were offered a free summer class to “try out” Widener and freshmen and transfers who deposit now will be offered two free courses next summer to help them stay on track for graduation in 2024. All Main Campus new student orientation sessions will be held in June so that new students may accelerate their progress and become familiar with Widener by taking an online summer course starting in July. In the fall there will also be support for new students in how to navigate and maximize the experience of an online class.
We demonstrated our agility, resilience, and compassion this spring. Those qualities will be just as important when we return to campus. Business as usual will no longer suffice in the post-pandemic world. Rather, the norm for success will be agility, creativity, innovation, and flexible, proactive design to meet the needs and expectations of our students and their families. We are already demonstrating that we can excel at this through new initiatives that are underway. Despite the pain it has caused, the pandemic has and will continue to bring out the best in us. Thank you for your role in adapting and imagining an even better future for our university.
Please, take care of yourself and stay well,
Julie E. Wollman, PhD
Dear Widener community,
As I reflect on the unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation we are experiencing, it is difficult to believe that just two weeks ago, our vibrant campuses were buzzing with their usual activities. The upheaval coronavirus has brought to our learning community would have been difficult to imagine in early March.
And yet, in the face of tremendous adversity, our Widener community has stepped up to meet this challenge with courage, determination, and brilliant problem-solving. Our culture of collaboration has never shined brighter, allowing us to continue our most important work – educating students in a caring and supportive intellectual environment and putting them on the inside track to success.
Aware of the need to prioritize the health and safety of our campus community, Widener was among the first universities to announce a move to electronic instruction for all. Our Information Technology and Teaching and Learning Technology staff members worked quickly with our dedicated faculty to launch a well-conceived plan. In just a week, all of our full- and part-time professors prepared to transition to digital instruction, so that learning could continue and students would progress toward their degrees and their dreams.
More than 1,400 students followed instructions for moving out of residence halls to promote health and safety and we have continued to provide space for fewer than 20 students on our main campus and about 20 on the Delaware Law campus, who have no other housing options currently.
At every turn, despite the unknowns and need for rapid change, the Widener family has demonstrated resilience, grace, and agility.
Most recently, state governments are limiting personnel on our campuses to only “life-sustaining” staff who are assisting students who must remain. Still, we continue to teach and fulfill our mission. Although this new virtual learning environment may seem strange at first, it has been reassuring and exhilarating to see classes resume. Already I am hearing many success stories. Some of our most seasoned, veteran professors are excited by their new abilities to teach electronically, and students have enjoyed participating in class from comfortable personal spaces while engaging extensively in discussion and interaction with classmates and professors. We are all learning from this experience together, and we are constantly monitoring for trouble spots, and answering calls for help as soon as they arise. Challenges are inevitable as we learn to maneuver virtually, but overall the results of our first few days of online teaching have been excellent and even enlightening.
Above all, I want to thank every member of the Widener community for your role in making it possible to continue pursuing our mission: educating students and giving them the tools to succeed.
I am grateful for the staff who organized and deployed our digital tools to facilitate online learning, for professors who eagerly accepted the challenge of moving their courses online, and for students who are excited to continue learning.
I am grateful for the employees who have worked tirelessly to keep our campuses clean and safe, and for those who are constantly finding ways to keep the university’s business moving forward remotely, and to ensure all faculty, staff, and student workers are paid, in such unpredictable times.
These last weeks have been challenging, and at times disorienting for everyone, both professionally and personally. Our leadership and crisis management teams continue to monitor the situation, and refine Widener’s response, and I am committed to remaining in regular and frequent communication with all of you. Your well-being is paramount in all of our decisions.
As I review our progress, I am astounded and deeply moved by the enormity of what we have already accomplished together. These accomplishments have required an extraordinary level of commitment, creative problem solving, and faith in our university and in each other.
The words seem wholly insufficient, but they are the best I can offer right now: thank you.
Julie E. Wollman, PhD
Faculty and staff should check their email for further information and updates.
This page was last updated May 20, 2020 at 4:41 p.m.