Nothing is more important to our three universities in western Wisconsin than ensuring our students have the opportunity to succeed and thrive. We know that we all do that best through a more traditional college experience, where students, faculty and staff interact and engage in person. That is why we are joining with UW System President Tommy Thompson today, Feb. 18, in pledging that each of our institutions will plan for a traditional full college experience for the fall semester with in-person classes and rich co-curricular and extra-curricular offerings.
Our campuses have done a tremendous job since March 2020 in providing our students with quality education through a mix of online, in-person and hybrid classes as we adopted health and safety practices to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in our communities. Our extensive testing protocols for our students and employees have been a success. President Thompson said, “We now see COVID infection rates below 1 percent,” which is a testament to the dedication and commitment to health and safety demonstrated by our students and employees.
With the prospect of mass vaccinations for employees this spring and hopefully even our students sometime in summer, it is time to turn our efforts to the fall. In a column in today’s Wisconsin State Journal, President Thompson said: “… it is time for us to plan to resume as much of an in-person campus experience as possible this fall.”
“As Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, this means students can enjoy a return to lab and studio spaces, thriving residence hall communities and the chance to enjoy the vibrant Menomonie community with its many outdoor amenities,” stated Katherine Frank, Chancellor at UW-Stout.
UW-River Falls Chancellor Connie Foster said, “UW-River Falls is feeling very hopeful about our intended return to a more traditional fall semester. We know that this is what we do best: supporting our Falcons’ success by interacting with them in person in a multitude of ways, inside the classroom and beyond.”
“The opportunity to engage with their fellow students and our amazing faculty and staff is such a critical part of the Blugold experience, and our community benefits as well as we bring back our students for the fall semester,” stated James Schmidt, Chancellor at UW-Eau Claire.
These are goals that we are confident that we can achieve. We know how important it is for students to participate fully in the campus experience. As President Thompson said, “This sort of engagement – in and out of the classroom – builds sharper thinking, contributes to social development and enriches communities.”
We know there will be several factors to consider as we bring more students into our classrooms, studios and laboratories. As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to address these factors creatively, while continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our communities.