How UWT is moving forward: A talk with the chancellor

In an interview with the Ledger, UW Tacoma Chancellor Mark Pagano provided his thoughts on the current affairs of the campus. From classes moving online, to his town hall on March 19, to waving rent for the tenants who use UWT’s buildings along Pacific Avenue and to what future lays ahead for UWT, Pagano touched on numerous topics during the interview.

“It was rough at first,” said Pagano, in discussing how the transition from campus to remote work and learning proceeded. “You know, it was stressful on everybody. It was so new and happening so fast … I think we’re kind of adjusted. I’m not going to say it’s smooth sailing yet, but we’re adjusting and getting more comfortable.”

On March 19, Pagano, along with members of his administration, hosted his Chancellor’s Town Hall all online. During that town hall, which can now be found on the UWT’s YouTube page UWT Extended, UWT administrators fielded questions that were submitted through emails by concerned community members. Pagano stated that he was overall happy with the town hall, but did express his regret that they simply did not have all of the information at the time of the town hall.

“The one problem, though, was that it was so early,” Pagano said. “We didn’t have the answers to all of those questions. Students were asking all kinds of things that, I hate to say it, we didn’t have a clue yet. We were still working on them.”

As a response to the unanswered and unresolved questions from the town hall, a FAQ page on the UWT website was created, which, at the time of writing, has since been updated on April 7. The chancellor has also announced that the next virtual town hall will be on April 16, and will be streamed again through UWT’s YouTube channel.

During the interview, we asked the chancellor how UWT will be progressing with the move to online. Pagano responded that this is an excellent time to refine the campus’ remote capabilities. 

“Some of this is just projection, because we aren’t there yet, but I think about this all of the time,” Pagano said. “I hope that we have some more permanent online instruction for students. Some students might find this better and even more preferable for them, so we shouldn’t let go of all of this.”

When asked if this transition will help to expand resources into online classes and remote learning, Pagano explained that this is a good time to explore the university’s options with online learning.

“I think so.” Pagano said. “When you turn creative, smart people loose on opportunities or issues — you can call it a problem, but I don’t want to call it a problem because it’s an opportunity for us to respond — when you turn people loose on this they get very creative. I believe some of this will be things we want to keep that are going to be better learning tools.”

Pagano also talked about the process of reopening campus for everyone when it is safe and lawful.

“We turned it off very quickly, but I don’t think we’ll turn it back on that quickly,” Pagano said. ”I think we will have to ease into it. We need to listen to the experts, not the higher ed experts but the experts on disease with social distancing and flattening the curve. We really need to pay attention to that and exercise caution as we start back. So I see a little more of a gradual return to the [old] normal. Things will be forever changed, I think.”

In light of Inslee’s orders and the seriousness of COVID-19, UWT has waived rents for the businesses which operate along Pacific Avenue. Over the course of four days, Associate Director for Campus Planning and Retail Operations, Ben Mauk, and a few others from UWT and the main UW campus drafted a plan which would allow the university to waive the tenants’ rent for the next three months.

“We waved the rent because what was happening was when the students left … a lot of those businesses are heavily dependent on student traffic.” Pagano said. “When that dried up, they were really struggling. And we like those businesses. They are a part of UW Tacoma. It was either they are going to close down and maybe not be able to come back, or we can waive the rent for a few months, give them a little relief, and see if they can make it through and have the same tenants come back.”

As the UWT community continues to move forward with online classes and remote learning, Pagano offered the following words of advice for the UWT community:

“A lot of this is stressful, and it catches up to you,” Pagano said. “You’ve got to make time for your family and yourself. It feels like you’re going fast. Keep your priorities straight. This will pass.”