Dear members of the Whitman Community,

I am writing today to give an update on plans for the fall semester. For the past four months, faculty and staff have been working tirelessly on plans to bring back students for in-person learning in the safest way possible. Teams have been working to modify spaces, adapt courses to account for social distancing, de-densify residence halls, and develop protocols for contact tracing and coronavirus testing for our campus community.

However, since I announced our decision to return in person this fall, the coronavirus situation has changed dramatically. In the past few weeks, we have watched the rapid spread of cases across the country and here in our own area. Testing and contact tracing are not available at the levels needed. As the summer has progressed, it has become clear that in-person learning for the majority of our students is not prudent for our campus community, nor does it respect the public health needs of the broader Walla Walla community.

For those reasons, we have made the extremely difficult decision that the fall 2020 semester will primarily be via remote learning. Even just a couple of months ago, I could not have imagined making this decision. And while we have seen many other schools go in this direction, and it has become increasingly clear that this is the only safe option at this time, neither of these facts offers much comfort. Nevertheless, here we are.

As a result of this decision, on-campus living will be extremely limited, focused on those students who are unsafe at home or unable to participate in remote learning from their homes, even with accommodations. We encourage those students who have planned to live off-campus but are not in Walla Walla currently to strongly consider not returning to Walla Walla so that we can minimize the burden on our local health system.

Tuition

For students who will not return to campus this fall, we will waive all room and board charges. We have also made the decision to reduce tuition by 10%. A student’s individual charge will be based in part on your financial aid package. Need-based aid will be adjusted to reflect new costs, and merit-based aid will be prorated based on the tuition reduction. If you planned to live in a Whitman owned rental house, you can choose to live in that house as planned or be released from your lease upon request. We will be releasing revised financial aid awards and sending out new bills that reflect these changes in the next couple of weeks. 

Academics

Professors have been preparing all summer for the possibility of remote instruction. Drawing on their experiences after the quick pivot to online instruction in the spring, professors have spent a lot of time revamping many parts of their courses to make effective and exciting use of online technology. Even in an online format, you will receive the kind of close interactive experience that is the hallmark of a Whitman education, meeting regularly with your professors and peers, and receiving all the academic support you need to succeed in a rigorous learning environment.

For seniors who need access to specialized labs, studios and equipment for their senior thesis or capstone project, your professors will work with you to accommodate those needs. We will share more information about what is possible in the coming days.

Living On Campus Exceptions

If circumstances at home make it extremely difficult or impossible to complete your studies remotely during the fall semester, please complete this application to request on-campus housing for the fall. We will prioritize those students who are currently still living on campus and will exhaust all other possible solutions before allowing additional students to live on campus. Students will be placed in houses and apartment-style residences with kitchens, as dining services will not be available.

Athletics

Whitman has already announced our decision to not participate in athletic competition this fall, with the hope that many student-athletes will have the opportunity to participate in a postponed fall sports schedule this spring. Coaches will be in contact to share further information about how this decision impacts training and practice for the fall.

What’s Next

I know many of you will have a lot of questions about what is ahead. For that reason, we will hold three virtual town halls in the coming days: one for faculty and staff, one for returning students and families, and one for incoming students and families. You will receive an invitation to the virtual town hall most appropriate to you as a follow-up to this email. Following these town hall meetings, we will be reaching out individually to each Whitman student to better understand your plans for the fall. 

I know how disappointing this news may be. I truly hoped that we would be together on campus again this fall and start the academic year with some bit of normalcy. However, I believe this is the right decision for the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. That has always been and will always be my top priority. I am gratified by the many efforts of our faculty and staff that will allow us, in a safely distanced way, to continue the important work of advancing the learning process and building a supportive and vibrant Whitman community this fall. 

President Kathy Murray