UWF Is Prepping for Reopening
Plans are under development for the reopening of the University of West Florida, which could be approved as early as next month.
“I think that what I’m hearing is, [faculty, staff and students] are trusting the leadership to make sensible decisions,” said UWF President Martha Saunders.
The major step closer to getting back to business as usual is for the Florida Board of Governors to approve its blueprint for reopening. The 12 state institutions will use it to develop their own frameworks, which are due in to the board on June 12, with review on June 23.
“The BOG knows that schools are different; the student populations are different,” Saunders said. “So they don’t expect the plans to be the same, but they have offered a framework that we’re to build our plans around. And that’s been very helpful.”
The UWF plan includes a phased return for employees that will begin in June. Those now working from home would be able to continue to do so.
“Anyone that can continue to work remotely, we’re encouraging the supervisors to leave them there so we can bring people in a few at a time to see how the systems work,” said Saunders. “And find any glitches before we have a ton of people on campus.”
For students returning in the fall, Saunders is asking instructors to look at every course that’s been posted – online, face-to-face, and hybrid, a combination of the two -- and determine whether there will be any changes in those courses.
“If there are changes – and I expect there will be – what is very important is that if there are changes, our students need to know them,” Saunders said. “The sooner we can tell the students, ‘Now this course that you signed up for, is not going to be quite the way you signed up, you need to know that now.’”
Saunders established and assigned subcommittees related to the fall 2020 return to campus framework. They’re focused on specific areas, aligned with the board of governors’ plan. She adds what’s been uncovered by the panel hasn’t been all bad, according to what came out at a mini-retreat with her Cabinet last week.
“The really like the ZOOM meetings; they feel like they’re more efficient,” said Saunders. “We’ve had to automate some things. And some of them were forms that we probably should have done anyway. I find that very encouraging that we can find the positives in what was a stressful time.”
Along those lines, Saunders also believes that the coronavirus is giving everyone both a glimpse – and a head start -- into how things will be done in higher education in the future.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has forced us, and forced our customers, to say, ‘This is the part that’s really valuable; this is the part I’m going to invest in,’” said Saunders. “So I think that we’re all pausing. I don’t think all the solutions are there; I don’t think we will see things back [to] the way they always were.”
Many are wondering about UWF athletics, with football and other fall sports’ seasons rapidly approaching. Some questions may be answered on Friday when Saunders and other presidents of Gulf South Conference schools meet.
“[We’re] watching for guidance from the NCAA, but what’s more complicated about athletics, is that we play teams in 5 different states,” Saunders said. “Whereas in Florida, we may be fine with conducting business A-B-C, they may not be that comfortable in North Carolina.”
For now, UWF is seeking feedback and guidance from faculty, staff, students, public health officials and others, before the plan goes to the school’s Board of Trustees, and then to the Board of Governors.
“People want to stay healthy; we realize that we can have a safer campus, [but] we won’t have a perfectly safe campus from coronavirus because it’s a virus,” said Saunders. “But I am hearing just a call for ‘let’s find the sweet spot in the middle that keeps us as safe as we can be but we continue to do business.”
Additional information is available at www.uwf.edu/coronavirus. The University is providing updates as soon as new information is available.