June 18, 2020
Dear UNL Faculty and Staff –
Thank you for all of your efforts as we have led through the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The shifting of our academic enterprise to one of remote learning, and now, determining how to safely shift back to in-person instruction has been and continues to be an incredible undertaking. And while we have become a largely remote workforce, many have selflessly been physically on our campus – serving the students still in our residential halls and maintaining the critical infrastructure of our institution. I want to especially thank all in our community who have been on the front lines of our campus during this time.
Forward to Fall
Today, our Forward to Fall committee released its Guiding Framework in preparation for our return to campus in the fall. This Framework sets the parameters for the array of interconnected approaches that will help us safely and successfully deliver on our missions of education, research and creative activity and engagement. I want to thank the members of the committee, especially the leadership of Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Undergraduate Education Amy Goodburn and Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Bob Wilhelm, and all of those who have been so deeply engaged in ensuring our success.
These efforts are critically important. I was incredibly proud of how quickly all of you pivoted to a remote learning and working environment in the spring and continued to successfully deliver courses to our students while also continuing in all ways possible our research, scholarship, creative activity and engagement across Nebraska.
The impact of COVID-19 on our lives, and world, is hard to overstate. Yet, I believe that, even in the face of the challenges and hardships that it presents to every part of our lives and our communities, it is important that we take this moment to reaffirm our university’s core commitments. We are collectively committed to the transformational value of undergraduate and graduate residential education. The value of a Nebraska education extends beyond the walls of a classroom and is more than the combined content of the 40, or so, courses in a degree plan. Our students learn calculus, plant biology, accounting, ethics, graphic design and a hundred other things. But one of the most valuable things that they learn – what they come to UNL for and what they take with them from UNL into their lives – is the opportunity to learn beyond themselves; to live, learn and think with those whose experiences are not theirs; in a way that reflects the diversity of our world and expands the boundaries of our shared sense of community.
This could not be more important than it is now. As Nebraska’s flagship, comprehensive public Land-Grant university, we are committed to our access mission, as we have been since 1869. We know that COVID-19 has had differential impacts – on communities and people, across the world and across Nebraska. Many of our students have limited access to technology; others find themselves in need of more help, not less, right now. We recognize that our classrooms and our campus will be much changed; we also know that some of our students will not be able to join us on campus and we are planning for that. But being open for students is important right now, more so than ever. We have heard very clearly from them that this is what they expect and need.
We want our campus to continue to be a place where students can come together, to question and to learn. In that process, it is important that we do what we can, in every way that we can, as an institution, to be here for them.
The Framework is grounded in these Guiding Principles:
- Use current health and safety information for all recommendations
- Always consider the university’s three missions—education, research, and engagement
- Prioritize in-person instruction, research, and engagement whenever safety conditions make that possible
- Ensure a high-quality educational experience
- Protect student progress and time to degree while maintaining academic standards
- Ensure equity for students, faculty, and staff
- Preserve integrity of shared governance through ongoing consultation and collaboration with other Covid-19 groups, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, and campus stakeholders
- Plan for multiple scenarios to be responsive to uncertain and changing conditions
- Communicate all decisions clearly and transparently in ways that inform and educate
- Emphasize behaviors that respect and support health and safety of all UNL community members and of the larger communities of which we are all a part
- Utilize benchmarked information and data to avoid duplicating efforts
- Prioritize the principle of interconnectedness—our choices, both as individuals and as a campus, have consequences for others
- Consider the financial constraints and impacts of our recommendations
The Framework provides details on the health and safety measures we will be taking on campus; actions to address public health concerns in the classrooms; policies for housing, dining, and student life; and campus events. Everyone on campus will be encouraged to utilize the 1-Check COVID-19 screening app developed the University of Nebraska Medical Center. During the fall semester, testing will be available for anyone on our campus who presents with symptoms and we will work with state and county health organizations to ensure that contact tracing is available.
Much of the future success of our institution will be influenced by a successful and safe return of our students to campus. We are committed to both success and safety. I know so many of you are working incredibly hard to make this work. Thank you for your engagement and dedication. Your ingenuity and flexibility will be the foundation of our success.
Our Campus in July
As you know, for some time we have expected any employee able to work remotely to do so. In July, we will still encourage employees to work remotely whenever possible. However, we know as units prepare for the fall semester and students’ return to campus, we may need more employees to come back to an on-campus work environment. Where that is necessary, unit leaders are free to take those steps under the below provisions. We recently announced guidelines for exceptions to working on campus; any employee is welcome to use those options if they feel unsafe returning to campus.
As we have noted, it will be a long time before we can safely return to a pre-pandemic density of people on campus or pre-pandemic levels of travel. While much is still being discovered about COVID-19, we know that some of the biggest drivers of new infections are prolonged indoor exposure, large gatherings and travel. Taking appropriate steps to address these concerns will remain essential for some time to come. Based on this, we will be operating on these central guidelines from July 1 to July 31:
- Unit leaders must continue to abide by local health guidance. Currently, the city of Lincoln is at Yellow on the COVID risk dial, meaning the city is under a moderate risk for the spread of COVID-19 and recommends distancing of least 6 feet and the use of face masks. This is likely to be updated for July. Updates can be found on the Lincoln/Lancaster County Department of Health website.
- University-sponsored domestic and international travel will continue to be prohibited through July 31.
- Through the encouragement of working remotely, flexible scheduling, and other flexible measures, we expect unit leaders to continue to keep the density of individuals in a workplace to the minimum necessary.
The following facilities will either begin to open or increase the level of service currently being provided:
- Nebraska Union – The Bookstore will remain open in the month of June, with the Union reopening more widely to the public July 1 with limited hours. Starbucks will be open on July 1. Other vendors are likely to resume activity throughout the month of July. More information is available at https://unions.unl.edu.
- Nebraska East Union – will reopen to the public July 1 with limited hours. Starbucks will be open July 1. Other areas will open and be determined on the extent of the existing construction and renovations. More information is available at https://unions.unl.edu.
- Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center – will remain closed to the public through August 3.
- Campus Recreation – has been open since June 15 with limited hours. Summer Husker Kids and Huskers Adventures day camps will occur in July. More information is available at https://crec.unl.edu/covid.
- University Libraries – the Adele Hall Learning Commons will be open to UNL cardholders starting July 6, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. On that date, the Libraries will begin offering collections paging services, with pickup in the Learning Commons. More information will be available at Libraries COVID-19 site. The Law Library will remain closed to in-person visits by patrons. People in need of legal materials are encouraged to contact the law library faculty by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- The State Museum, the Lied Center for Performing Arts, Sheldon Museum of Art, and the International Quilt Museum – will continue to offer digital programming in July and will remain closed to the public. Additional information is available on their websites.
Out of an abundance of caution and as we did in May, we will not be conducting an in-person commencement ceremony in August. We will again confer degrees in a virtual celebration and all graduates will receive gift boxes with a complimentary mortarboard and tassel along with Husker-themed souvenirs. All August 2020 graduates will be invited to attend a future in-person commencement.
Again, thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to help our university achieve success during this time. Many would say that nothing could prepare us for the impacts of a global pandemic. While that may be true, watching the work of our collective university community has been inspiring. With your continued efforts, I know we will succeed and likely look back on 2020 as a time of great uncertainty but also one of great pride in how we delivered in unprecedented ways on our mission as the people’s University of Nebraska.
Ronnie D. Green, Ph.D.