FAQs from June 15 town hall

Frequently Asked Questions

On June 15, 2020, Western Michigan University held a virtual town hall at which attendees submitted questions. Many of the questions were identical or addressed similar themes. The information categorized below represents frequently asked questions and also provides answers.

Campus health and safety

Wearing a face covering or mask is recognized as an important tool helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. Will masks be required on WMU's campus? And, how will this be enforced equitably?

Each day, nearly 25,000 people come on and off of WMU's campus, which is the size of a small city. Keeping campus safe this year will require everyone’s participation.

There are four strategies to this:

  • Wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth
  • Maintaining 6 feet of distance between yourself and others
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Staying home if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and getting tested at the earliest signs of symptoms, or if you believe you have been exposed

The best thing each of us can do is model these behaviors consistently; that’s how they become social norms. Every member of this University community has a role to play in keeping campus safe. You will see this message constantly reinforced across campus and through various communication channels.  Encouragement, however, may not be enough.
Wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth—a safety measure strongly recommended by public health experts and intended to protect all—is required of University community members when indoors. Masks will also be made available to employees who don’t have their own. Handmade masks are appropriate, but they should be laundered prior to wearing and on a regular basis. Remember, wearing a mask isn’t just about protecting wearers, it’s also about protecting those around them and their families.
While in open workstations—such as a cubicle or modular office space—you will be expected to wear a mask at all times as others can approach you at any time. If you are working alone in your office with the door closed or in your residence hall or apartment, you do not need to wear a mask.

WMU leaders understand that there is sensitivity around this topic and so we're analyzing it from every angle to ensure reasonableness, practicality, fairness and equity are built into the enforcement of this safety requirement.
Are there any exceptions to the mask requirement?
Guidelines are still being finalized. We do understand that there are circumstances in which a face mask may not be feasible, including:

  • When an individual suffers from a medical condition that prevents the use of a mask.
  • During athletic activities, practices or events.
  • When the activity involves the use of the mouth such as is required when playing an instrument, acting, singing or eating.
  • When the person is alone in an enclosed individual office, residence hall room or apartment.

We are thinking carefully about these situations as we finalize the guidelines.
Beyond masks, what other personal protective equipment is the University providing to employees, i.e. disinfecting wipes, sanitizer?
Divisions and offices are expected to make cleaning supplies available to employees at their worksite. Supervisors should also provide time for employees to wash hands frequently or to use hand sanitizer. Employees are responsible for cleaning their own work areas and “touch” surfaces using an effective disinfectant as necessitated to maintain sanitary surface.
Will the University be doing testing and will it be required? What provisions are in place for contact tracing?
Testing will not be required, but it is highly encouraged for those who experience COVID-19 symptoms or suspect they have been exposed. But whether symptomatic or not, anyone may request a COVID-19 test at Sindecuse. Testing is one of WMU's four key strategies, along with mask wearing, social distancing, frequent handwashing and staying home if symptomatic. The University has secured access to a robust supply chain of rapid-result antigen testing.
If you have been exposed to the virus, have symptoms or just want to be tested, contact Sindecuse by phone to schedule an appointment for evaluation. Results are posted, typically on the same day or next day, in the patient portal and can be given to a patient by phone.
We will also conduct contact tracing for those who test positive. We will determine and notify those who may have been exposed to the ill individual. If the patient lives in Kalamazoo County, Sindecuse staff will work with Kalamazoo county health officials to assess the patient's close contacts. If the individual lives in another county, that community's agencies will be notified to carry out the necessary contact tracing.
What information will have to be disclosed, who will have access to it, and how will it be protected in the event I need an accommodation? (Updated: Includes necessary disclosure associated with public health emergency)
Each day prior to coming to any campus facility or participating in any University activity, employees must complete a brief questionnaire found in GoWMU. The survey has a series of basic questions, such as whether you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms. The information sought is just enough to determine whether the survey taker needs to be assessed at Sindecuse.
Once at Sindecuse, you enter a HIPAA-protected process wherein health information is not shared beyond your health care providers and those you specify. However, for those found to be have a positive case of COVID-19, the University is required to report that information, including the  identity of the individual, to county public health officials to conduct contact tracing.

When someone gets sick, how will they be isolated, who will be notified, and how will others be kept safe?
When someone tests positive for COVID-19, if Sindecuse clinicians perform the test, they will notify the county health department. Staff will work with Kalamazoo county health officials to assess the patient's close contacts. As with Sindecuse, any establishment that conducts COVID-19 testing is required by law to report positive cases to the county health department.
A WMU campus community member who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 should isolate at home and not return to campus until informed by a health care provider that it is safe to end isolation.
If the individual is a student who lives on campus, they will be asked to isolate. The University will take appropriate precautions to restrict access to the living space of the isolated person. Facilities and custodial workers who have access to spaces that may be, or may have been, occupied by a person who was confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 will be notified. Those spaces will then be cleaned as health guidelines indicate.
With many custodians laid off, how will the University adequately clean campus when more intensive cleaning is required due to the pandemic?
As the campus is allowed to and begins increasing in person activity Facilities Management will likely recall some custodial staff and reexamine staffing to ensure it has the capacity to do the appropriate cleaning. Touchpoints throughout campus—such as handrails, door knobs, light switches and other surfaces—will be cleaned with the greater intensity and frequency necessitated by the coronavirus outbreak.
If custodial services receive requests for disinfecting areas due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 (or other contagious disease/virus), they will confer with Sindecuse and custodial staff will clean then disinfect the area via electrostatic disinfection based upon the recommendation of Sindecuse. Electrostatic disinfection allows for a higher and more complete level of disinfection than standard cleaning.
Additionally, employees are responsible for cleaning their own work areas and “touch” surfaces using an adequate disinfectant as necessitated to maintain sanitary surface.
What measures is the University taking with regard to building systems and building occupancy to help safeguard students and employees?
WMU will reduce the population density in classrooms, residence halls and other campus spaces to enable and maintain the required 6 feet of social distancing.
Reducing exposure from potential hazard where appropriate may include increased ventilation rates; opening windows; installing physical barriers such as sneeze guards. If sneeze guards are needed, supervisors should request these through Bronco Fix It.
Use of building common areas—i.e.  lobby areas, waiting areas, breakrooms, copier areas and kitchenettes—will be limited to numbers needed to maintain social distancing requirements. No one should congregate in large numbers in common areas.
All touchpoints should be wiped after contact or as often as reasonably practicable. Maximum capacity for common areas should be posted, however, if it is not posted, then the maximum occupancy is based on the distancing requirement of 6 feet between individuals.
As recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning—HVAC—professional organization, depending on the type of systems and HVAC technology that are in place, the University has, under current conditions, disabled demand control ventilation where applicable; increased air change rates for densely occupied spaces; enabled the outside air night purge where possible; and will review humidity levels.

Could you give us the link to find classroom capacity caps?

You can review the classroom capacity across our campus buildings on the Fall Contingency Task Force’s webpage under planning documents.

Have you considered students, faculty and staff who are physically disabled? How to get around? Getting in and out of buildings with restricted entrances/exits?

The review of the online screening tool and any environments being modified are all going through ADA accessibility review so we can ensure individuals coming to campus will have the ability to have similar experiences and utilization of those tools. Once those decisions about building accessibility are made, Disability Services for Students will notify students so they know how to access buildings on campus.

What if I’m a staff member and my supervisor is not making unit safety a priority? Can you talk about the anonymous location to report concerns?

If you see a University employee doing something inappropriate and you’re not comfortable talking directly to that individual, you can contact his or her manager or supervisor by email or phone. If you want to remain anonymous, there is a reporting mechanism available called EthicsPoint. In order to take action, we will need sufficient detail to identify the individual not in compliance and the circumstances where they are not in compliance.

remote work

When it comes to returning to work on campus, each unit is putting together return-to-work plans and University leaders are assessing which buildings will and will not be open this fall. Keeping buildings hibernated is essential to addressing our financial challenges. Although we will work remotely whenever possible, the needed preparations for fall return and the adaptations departments have made to accommodate remote work have supplanted the need for limited work schedules. Therefore, essential/conditional essential employment status for SCS staff will end on July 1. But employees should consult with their supervisors on how and where they will continue their work through the summer and into the fall. Working remotely is still encouraged whenever it is feasible. The University remains in Limited Operation Status and is continuing to consult with state and federal leaders and follow public health and safety guidelines.

Can a faculty member choose to teach his or her course via distance education?
Faculty members will work with their dean and department chair to make determinations on course delivery methods.
I am a staff member who is vulnerable to COVID-19 due to my age or a health condition, can I choose to work at home, even after my unit returns to work?
Employees who need to seek an accommodation due to a medical condition should make that request under the Americans with Disabilities Act. To do so, contact the Office of Institutional Equity at (269) 387-6316. You may also make your request in writing by downloading the ADA Accommodation request form found on the Office of Institutional Equity website along with the Disability Verification form to initiate the process. The forms may be mailed to the ADA Coordinator at mailstop 5405 or faxed to (269) 387-6312.
What if I do not have a medical condition but prefer to work remotely?
As part of the University's safe campus strategy, it is important to reduce population density as much as possible to enable everyone to maintain the required 6 feet of distance from others. As determined and approved by supervisors and managers, employees who can conduct their work remotely should do so with their supervisor's permission. Additionally, the University is in the process of developing remote work guidelines, which will stipulate the circumstances under which an employee may work remotely.

Financial/personnel questions

What is the status of enrollment? What is the status of state funding?
Summer enrollment and our current numbers are providing some signs for cautious optimism— at least relative to our worst-case scenario. However, we remain concerned about our predictive models. Variables like priority decisions, housing contracts, and orientation have all changed. We also remain concerned about a last-minute “melt” in enrollment depending on where COVID-19 cases stand in late August. It is too early to meaningfully assess, and the negative impact remains to be seen.
While enrollment may not decline as much as feared, Michigan's budget outlook has not improved. The state is anticipating a shortfall into the billions. This will impact WMU significantly. Our 2020-21 budget, beginning July 1, still calls for significantly reduced revenue from our two main funding sources—student tuition and state funding.

WMU's projected shortfall for the coming year is between $45 million and $85 million. Because of the long notice periods (up to a year in some cases) and provisions enshrined in the University's many personnel policies and agreements with bargaining units, prudence has required planning for the worst-case scenario while remaining hopeful for better outcomes than those suggested by the data currently available. If funding and enrollment are better than expected, positive adjustment is possible. But if we do not plan sufficiently now and we are wrong, the University will not have time to respond.

What is the status of layoffs?

Reduction in force is an extensive process because every unit is impacted. The ultimate, overall personnel reduction number will be influenced by state funding, fall enrollment and the number of faculty who opt for the retirement program. Leaders are still working through the necessary provisions, steps and procedures. All those affected will be notified by July 1, but the bumping process—which could significantly impact the final number—must be completed. There also may be some recalls as in person operations resume.

Why not offer an early retirement incentive to Staff Compensation System employees?
The University is operating under unprecedented budget constraints. Early retirement plans require a significant upfront cash investment from the University that results in savings only in the midterm. We have to balance what is possible with our immediate financial picture and where we need our budget to be. In the short term, if we overextend buyouts, more layoffs would be required.


What actions are you going to take to end racism on campus?
Racism is a cancer in our society, one so serious that it can have deadly consequences, as the nation has witnessed in recent weeks and all too often otherwise. Millions across the country and world have stood up to declare the “Black Lives Matter.” Acknowledging we have a problem is but a first step. The second requires shining a light on where problems exist in our midst, including at WMU. You can't root out problems if they are not identified.

For example, several members of the President's Cabinet recently met with leadership of the Western Student Association and the Black Student Union. It was a productive meeting in which student leaders brought concrete concerns to the fore among leaders who are not only empowered to hear those concerns but to act.
President Montgomery put out a call on June 8, seeking solutions from the campus community. Many responded with their ideas and stories. That’s a start. We will not and cannot stop there. We must seize the moment and not allow passion for change to fade away when the national headlines, as they inevitably will, focus on other crises. All of us should examine ourselves for personal change and examine systems to lay bare the need for institutional change. Those in positions to effect change should be held accountable for it. That's the only way to real progress.