June 12, 2020
Dear Staff Members,
It’s been nearly two weeks since I started as interim President, and I wanted to write to you directly to let you know how much I value and appreciate your incredible work. I also want to make clear that I am aware of many of the challenges you are facing during this unprecedented time.
This has been a hard few months — on so many fronts — for our community, but for many of our staff members, it has been even harder. The COVID-19 crisis has transformed our world and our work. You have been asked to focus on your UT assignments to support our students and research mission, while managing important and challenging personal matters like child and elder care, and grappling with the uncertainty of potential budget reductions. Some staff members have remained on campus. Many more have moved to remote work arrangements. And some have received temporary furloughs from their assignments.
I wish I could announce a specific day and time when we would all return to campus, our offices would reopen and the solutions we seek could be achieved instantaneously. But that’s simply not the case.
Instead, I am asking the leadership in all units across campus to look closely at the vital roles each staff member plays; assess what functions can still be done at a high level remotely through the summer and into the fall; determine what other roles should be brought back to campus once many of our students and faculty members return; and make phased decisions about when offices can safely reopen in person.
Supervisors will seek your input and ideas. They will also assess the specific health needs of our people and how they may be affected by a return to campus — even with social distancing measures and office density guidelines, face coverings required and increased capacity for testing and tracing. We will also monitor local school districts’ plans and the status of child care throughout the area.
As a university, we need to develop our plans with a laser focus on both the health of our community members and our vital education and research missions. Once we get past the immediate hurdles for reopening in the fall, we will also more fully consider different long-term options for teleworking and flexible schedules for UT employees.
You are an integral part of that process, but I recognize it can be hard to continue to bring enthusiasm and energy to your work when we don’t yet have a clear path forward. The main thing I want to make sure you understand is there will not be a specific date when we will all simultaneously return to campus. Instead, the continued and gradual return of our staff will be assessed through conversations with, and analysis by, the leadership of each unit.
Moving forward, I will do my best to communicate clearly and keep you informed of any decisions the university makes. I know this isn’t just your job — it’s a major part of your life, and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t believe in our ability to do things that are truly special. And I want to hear from you, listen to your concerns and encourage you to fill out our upcoming staff survey.
While I cannot guarantee much about the immediate future, I can tell you that The University of Texas will return to being the vibrant, world-changing place we have always known and loved. We are blessed with many core strengths across the university, and our UT staff members are prominent among them.
On behalf of our students, alumni and the state of Texas, I can’t thank you enough for all you do for us — on campus, online, in the labs, in our facilities and everywhere else we do the work that changes the world.