Town hall prepares for increase in on-site research

Comment period closes Wednesday; research activities expected to ramp up by June


MATT ESTABROOK | The Daily Evergreen

Colleen Kerr, vice president for external affairs and government relations, said research is a primary function of higher education.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen news editor

WSU research officials held a town hall Tuesday to solicit feedback on draft guidelines for research, scholarship and creative activities, which will allow on-site activities, like lab or office work, to gradually increase. 

The goals of the new guidelines are to protect the health and well-being of researchers, limit the spread of COVID-19, and protect the careers of both researchers and students, said Levi O’Loughlin, university biosafety officer and assistant director of the Office of Research Assurances.

“It’s not lost on any of us that we are a research institution,” said Bryan Slinker, WSU interim provost and executive vice president. “It feels really uncomfortable to those of us here and you all, I’m sure, to have to scale back our research.”

Principal investigators must sign and post the guidelines, which include recommendations for vulnerable populations, physical distancing and facial coverings, O’Loughlin said. Researchers who can work remotely should continue to do so. 

O’Loughlin said research will most likely begin to ramp up in June once the state moves to Phase 2 of Safe Start Washington. 

Slinker said most researchers are used to working with biosafety or radiation precautions, so infectious disease precautions should not be too different. 

Higher education is an essential service and research is a primary function of higher education, said Colleen Kerr, vice president for external affairs and government relations. As such, WSU researchers must also meet guidelines established by Gov. Jay Inslee

WSU guidelines, which were issued on March 26, limited on-site research that is not considered “essential” or related to COVID-19, said Christopher Keane, vice president for research.

Some faculty members have been able to easily switch to COVID-19 research, but they should not feel compelled to do so if it would be a difficult transition, said John Roll, vice dean for research at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

The full video recording of the town hall is available on YouTube. 

Wednesday is the last day for researchers to submit comments on the research guidelines.