Letter from the Chancellor: June 1, 2020

Dear U of A community:

As promised, I’m pleased to report that we now have a plan for returning to on-site campus operational status – slowly and carefully over the summer, and, more importantly, in time to welcome students back in the fall.

The plan for Returning to Campus provides guidance that can be applied to all campus decisions. Above all else, the plan prioritizes the health and safety of our campus community by emphasizing flexibility. The core assumption underlying all of our planning is that COVID-19 will remain a concern until a vaccine is available and widely accessible. The plan proceeds from the conditions and facts as we know them today. As such, the plan will be fluid, adaptive, and contingent on federal and state guidelines that will also be subject to change as the situation evolves. 

It should come as no surprise that the plan calls for health and safety practices that are already well established, detailing expectations for face coverings, social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning protocols for campus facilities, as well as guidelines for when not to come to campus. We know from the healthcare professionals that these are the things we must continue to do.

While we will continue to minimize the number of people who don’t need to be on campus, the plan also outlines a phased return for campus employees. In fact, the first phase has already begun, with the research continuity plan established last month. Over the next couple months, we will slowly bring more employees back in preparation for the fall semester.

We’ve also established additional guidelines for academic support and student success programs, housing, dining and campus life, as well as athletics, other auxiliaries, and public events. The plan is comprehensive but not exhaustive. The Returning to Campus plan provides an overview of the prevailing guidance we expect to implement to mitigate an outbreak of COVID-19. We can’t prevent someone from getting infected, but we can work to minimize the risk. Numerous subcommittee plans, as well as unit-level plans, have been developed and will continue to be developed to suit the unique needs of each unit. From altering work schedules to adjusting duties – these are the conversations that still need to be had at the unit level.

Again, our intention is for a safe, slow return to campus in anticipation of a face-to-face instructional fall semester. One critical decision that we have made is to follow the academic calendar that has already been established with any contingency planning made around that assumption with two exceptions:  first we are canceling fall break to reduce the chances of virus spread by students who travel to other locations and second, we may go to 100% remote instruction after the Thanksgiving break again to reduce the chances of travel-related spread of the virus on campus. Decisions regarding post-Thanksgiving instruction will be made at a later date based on the state of the virus. All instructors should design their courses to switch to 100% remote delivery at any time should circumstances surrounding the virus change.

We’ve revamped our Coronavirus Update site to focus more on our next steps this summer and fall including the guide to Returning to Campus.

Mostly what I want to do here is make you aware of the plan and encourage you to read it. More detail will be communicated as plans continue to evolve and develop – particularly emerging guidance for supervisors and building executives. I also want to extend a huge thanks to our COVID-19 Response Team, which was composed of more than a dozen subcommittees. I also want to thank our entire U of A community for their support, resilience and willingness to help each other through this difficult period.

Finally, I’ll be holding a series of virtual town hall meetings over the next couple of months to answer your questions and generally to check in. We need each other more than ever as we work through the challenges caused by COVID-19, including economic disruption, unemployment and general anxiety about the future. In addition, the senseless death of George Floyd has reinforced that everyone has a role to play in creating a society that values and practices equality and justice for all. Please join me in recommitting to this effort, leading by example and action.

Thank you for your patience and support.

Sincerely,

Joe Steinmetz, Ph.D.
Chancellor