Letter from the Chancellor: May 22, 2020

Dear U of A Community:

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to quickly update you about where we currently stand in terms of planning for the fall semester. At this point, I know you have a lot of questions – more questions than we can presently answer, but I want you to know that we are actively working on all dimensions of a slow and safe restoration of on-site operations. We are on track for sharing campus-wide guidance around June 1 as planned.

The planning challenges are immense. To give you an idea, as we consider a possible return to campus, no detail is too small to consider! From housing and dining and all facets of student life, to arranging our spaces to allow for appropriate distancing, to developing revised cleaning protocols for each and every building, this is a giant undertaking.

We’re also looking at class scheduling to move as many classes as possible to larger classrooms and encouraging faculty to consider arranging their courses in ways that would reduce capacity, possibly alternating in-person attendance on a daily or weekly basis, as well as other scenarios designed to promote health and safety. And obviously, we also have to plan for the possibility of pivoting back to remote teaching and learning if we see a sudden resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

I know the level of uncertainty surrounding the fall is cause for concern and anxiety, especially as other colleges and universities begin to announce their plans. In fact, the SEC just announced this afternoon that student athletes could begin voluntary workouts beginning June 8. Fortunately, we had already made the decision to continue remote teaching and learning through summer, so that provided some breathing room (and certainty) to really dig into the next phase of planning. Hundreds of campus personnel are now tackling these challenges and devising solutions. As such, we remain optimistic that we will be able to share the broad outline of our fall plan by the first week of June.

The guiding principle of our planning is to limit the number of people on campus to the best of our ability. True, some people need to be on campus, or want to work from their office, and with the permission of deans, directors and department heads, some of these arrangements may be approved so long as people are maintaining a distance, using face coverings, especially when physical distancing is not possible, and frequently washing hands. I think the most important point to convey today is that no matter what plans and guidelines emerge, the primary feature will be flexibility: the flexibility to adapt to a rapidly evolving situation and the flexibility to keep students, staff and faculty safe.

Whether it’s reconfigured floorplans, staggered shifts and workdays, new health and safety processes, or continued working from home, we will have a flexible plan in place that supports our health and well-being.

Again, we’ll have more to share in the very near future. Until then, enjoy your holiday weekend. If the weather permits, I hope you can get outside a little – just don’t forget your mask.

Thank you for all you are doing.

Joe Steinmetz, Ph.D.
Chancellor