Letter from Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation: March 18, 2020

Campus community,

I realize that there is a great deal of information being sent across email during the last few weeks, and wish to offer the following from my office about UA’s research operation during this challenging time.  Thank you for all the great work you are doing and keep safe. 

Researchers should check with the department and/or program heads to learn of any ongoing departmental contingency plans. There is significant autonomy and responsibility placed on principal investigators (PIs) to prepare individual contingency plans for a research group/team that is consistent with campus directives, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Consideration of health and safety, and the timeliness of grant activities that may be (time) sensitive are important guiding principles from which contingency research plans derive. In addition, principal investigators are responsible for actively monitoring their research group/team for compliance with applicable contingency plan(s).

  1. Principal investigators should remain up to date on relevant information, a task best accomplished by bookmarking and frequently visiting the UA Coronavirus Response webpage: https://health.uark.edu/coronavirus.  The webpage is a living document and is updated to reflect current events that impact the campus community.  It documents the basis for campus directives, ADH, and CDC guidelines that shall be considered an important resource for a PI.

Research sponsors (e.g. the National Science Foundation) are also providing guidance in the form of FAQs.  These webpages and announcements should be routinely checked for directives related to projects.  NSF, for example, has collected relevant information regarding grant awards, extensions, and directives on when to contact a Program Officer. 

Go to https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20053/nsf20053.jsp#q9, noting in particular that “All NSF awards are eligible for one-year grantee-approved no-cost extensions and then further extensions as approved by NSF. If you foresee a need for NSF-approved extensions, you should include that information in your annual report and discuss the need ahead of time with the cognizant NSF program officer for your award. See the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG), Chapter VI.D.3, for additional information.” 

Also, the COGR website has collected relevant information for the majority of funding agencies supporting work on our campus (https://www.cogr.edu/institutional-and-agency-responses-covid-19-and-additional-resources).

  1. Consistent with campus directives, ADH, and CDC guidelines, PIs should prepare a plan that addresses continuity of research goals and objectives for their team.  It is strongly encouraged that these plans leverage “work-from-home”, minimize the frequency of visits to campus, and if trips to a laboratory are required, minimize personal contact between researchers.  Consider the following questions when developing your plan.
  • If the laboratory component of a research project may be shuttered, what portion of the work (e.g. manuscript preparation, literature survey) can be accomplished in a “work-at-home” mode?
  • During “work-at-home”, what tasks will be assigned to your research assistants to satisfy requirements of their assistantships or employment?
  • If laboratory work or entry must occur, how will personal contact be minimized, and/or any isolated work be scheduled whilst ensuring first aid can be provided?
  • How will work surfaces be decontaminated, and will you have sufficient stocks of personal protection equipment (PPE), i.e. masks, gloves, etc.?
  • Will it be necessary to communicate with your research sponsor(s) alerting them of (potential) directives from the University, and by what means are you actively monitoring your sponsor(s) and their expectations?
  • What steps will be taken to make certain activities, including “work-from-home”, will remain compliant with contingency plan(s) of the PI and campus?
  • Will it be necessary to fund a person through other means because suitable activities could not be identified, and what will this source of funding be?

Use your domain expertise when preparing this plan.  Aggressively follow best practices of personal protection.  You no doubt have safety measures already in place for your team.  If lab work is absolutely necessary consider working in shifts, having personal space of six feet, and allowing no more than two / three people at a time in a laboratory of 100 square feet. 

  1. Plans that are prepared by a PI will be discussed by the department head or chair, and approved by the dean to ensure coordination. The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation (VCRI) will leave it to the discretion of each department/college as to the level of documentation required to satisfy this requirement.  Note that as each college prepares its response plan, the best way a PI will ensure his/her needs are articulated will be communicating an individual plan to the department head or chair in a timely fashion.

Please feel free to contact me or VCRI office if you have any additional questions. Also, I’ve included an example procedure that may be helpful for ramping down laboratory research as needed.

Daniel Sui
Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation

University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Phone: (479) 575-5901