Letter from the Chancellor: July 17, 2020

Dear U of A Community:

In light of this week’s Board of Trustees’ meeting, I wanted to take a moment to update you on plans being put in place for everyone’s return to campus next month. As the fall semester approaches, I know many are concerned about what campus will look like in terms of health and safety. New polices and plans are now providing some clarity.

First, the board passed a resolution on Wednesday directing us to implement a face covering policy that, at a minimum, requires masks in buildings where physical distancing of more than six feet can't be assured. On our campus, that’s virtually every building. The upshot is, unless your building or classroom is an exception, everyone – students, faculty, staff and visitors — should plan on wearing a mask inside university facilities. The use of appropriate face coverings — face mask or shield, if a mask cannot be worn for medical reasons — is important for the health and well-being of our campus community.

As such, we expect our community to comply with the use of face coverings in all required settings. We hope we don’t have to enforce this but are prepared to have educational conversations if necessary. This may also mean instituting Code of Student Conduct violations or utilizing our Progressive Discipline Policy for employees.

It’s pretty simple: I protect you. You protect me. We protect each other.

To help you prepare for this requirement, personal protection kits have been ordered and will soon be assembled and will be distributed to all faculty, staff and students.  These kits will include masks, hand sanitizer, disinfecting materials and thermometers. Some face shields will be available for those who cannot wear masks for personal health reasons.

Reporting and quarantine protocols are also being finalized for when a positive case is reported on campus. This will include information about what notifications to expect if a colleague, employee or student in your class becomes infected.

We are developing a comprehensive contact tracing program to include all students. We are aiming to include faculty, staff, and potentially visitors, as well. Through our Pat Walker Health Center and the campus emergency manager (currently, the UAPD's Matt Mills) we are working with the Arkansas Department of Health to develop the program and training. We will deploy nursing and public health students who will receive internship credit and clinical hours. Creating our own ADH-approved protocol will improve our community’s agility in responding to infections and quickly isolating others who may have been exposed. Our goal is to have this ready one week before classes start. This will be important in the event any member of our community tests positive, as it will ensure those who were in close contact — whether in classes, dorms, dining halls, etc. — are notified in a timely manner.

The Provost's Office is sending an email to students regarding changes to schedules that will reflect a new blended approach to classes. Locations of classes may change to larger venues to facilitate social distancing. Some will be shifted to online-only or split between online and in-person attendance. For larger classes, students may be alternating between in-person and distance learning. All in-person classes will also be recorded in the event a student needs to self-isolate or quarantine — ensuring they can stay on top of their studies. A Zoom contract is being finalized to accommodate this effort. Finally, we want to encourage students to continue to check for schedule changes through UAConnect, as some locations may change in the coming weeks and some classes may be shifting to on-line status.

In other related news, the Provost’s Office is completing plans that embrace maximizing the safety of our campus community. The details will be shared, but please know that faculty who desire to teach remotely will be allowed to manage their classes in that format. Others who prefer to teach face-to-face and/or hybrid courses will be supported with social distancing, mandatory masking, face shields and an enhanced classroom cleaning protocols managed by Facilities Management.

In addition, in accordance with the Return to Campus phases previously articulated, employees who can conduct their work effectively on a remote basis, as determined by the supervisor, should continue to do so. Our overall goal is to minimize the number of employees on campus while the pandemic is ongoing wherever possible.

All faculty and staff should also be doing daily health checks through Workday. COVID-19 certification notifications have started going out to supervisors’ Workday in-boxes each evening at 10 p.m. to provide an update on the status of employees in their area. Please get in the habit of doing this so we can have an accurate, daily snapshot of how our campus is doing. (We’re also exploring the Android version of this!)

Finally, some facilities are starting to reopen on campus.

  • The west side of the Arkansas Union is now open. The Food Court opens Aug. 10
  • University Libraries are open for pick-up services July 20 and fully open Aug. 10
  • University Recreation is open with limited hours of operation and activities.

These are just a few recent developments. You can continue to find the latest, in-depth updates at health.uark.edu/coronavirus

I hope this allays some concerns about the upcoming semester. Please know that the health and safety of our campus community will continue to be at the forefront of our planning efforts.

Joe Steinmetz, Ph.D.
Chancellor