June 8, 2020
Dear UT Community,
I hope you were able to spend time this weekend focusing on the things that are meaningful to you and your families as our university, state and nation continue to grapple with critical challenges.
The past three months have inflicted so much pain on so many in our community. This has only worsened during the past several days. Our university will have a role to play in moving society forward, as a group of talented, diverse individuals who create and generate knowledge, teach and learn from one another, and communicate about tough issues, including race. The protests we continued to see in Austin and around the world during the weekend are another reminder of the work we still have to do.
As we move along into the summer months, the university continues to solidify its plans for our reopening, and today, I wanted to share some additional updates. These come on the heels of last week’s planning letter, which highlighted new decisions on a wide range of policies, including the remote learning option we are offering students and new limitations on classroom capacity. You can review all of our decisions regarding learning, living, working, health and wellness, research and athletics at our Fall 2020 planning website.
Protective Face Covering Policy
We will start the fall semester with all students, faculty, staff and visitors required to wear masks or cloth face coverings when they are in buildings on campus. This policy — which is currently in place for the summer — is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which makes clear that face coverings, in addition to social distancing measures, are among the most effective strategies in limiting the spread of COVID-19, particularly in high-density areas. It is also consistent with the Texas Department of State Health Services’ guidelines for Opening the State of Texas.
UT community members can remove their face coverings in a campus building if they are alone in a private office or space, or if they are in their assigned residence hall room (once residence halls reopen). The use of masks in outdoor areas on campus will be encouraged, especially in areas where social distancing is not possible, but not required. We are still working to develop a mechanism for ensuring the use of face coverings in buildings and will share that plan when it is finalized.
COVID-19 Testing and Screening
Last week, I wrote about our testing and screening policies, but I wanted to include them again in today’s update to reiterate our strategy.
We are developing a plan to test asymptomatic individuals on a voluntary basis. Such asymptomatic testing can help us further reduce the spread of COVID-19 on campus while creating a more complete picture of the presence and impact of the disease. We will build on-campus capabilities to conduct asymptomatic testing consistent with epidemiological recommendations.
We are also continuing to review options and policies for screening members of the UT community who enter buildings on campus for symptoms and will provide more information as we finalize our approach.
Last month, I wrote to let you know the university was beginning our second phase of financial mitigation. Unfortunately, employee furloughs have now begun in some units that generate their own revenue but haven’t been able to bring in enough income. These actions come on top of the first phase of financial mitigation, announced in April, that included more limited hiring and spending, and the elimination of the central merit raise pool.
We are also continuing our financial planning and assessment in light of the state's recent request for Texas higher education agencies and institutions to submit a plan for a 5% reduction in their state appropriations for this budget cycle. We are developing our plan and identifying potential cuts and savings now.
Additionally, we are beginning to prepare for the upcoming 2021 legislative session. We will soon receive guidance from the Legislative Budget Board to help us in our biennial request for state funding for fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23. We expect to receive this guidance in the coming weeks, but early indications are that we should prepare to submit reduced budget requests and strategies to achieve further savings.
I know that many staff members have questions about additional cost-savings measures that might be taken this summer, this fall and beyond that affect your college, school, unit and how you do your job each day. These decisions are still being made, and I will aim to provide you with the most up-to-date information as we determine the path forward. I understand that this uncertainty isn’t ideal — I wish we had clearer answers at this time — but we will be transparent and keep everyone in the loop as we continue to make difficult choices for the future benefit of our university.
I want to thank all of you for your patience as we develop and hone our strategies for both the summer and fall. We are committed to making choices that prioritize the safety of our community while carrying forward our educational and research missions at the very highest level. That is what this planning process is all about, and I greatly appreciate the input, feedback and guidance you have given us every step of the way. If you’d like to share more ideas and thoughts about fall 2020, please write us here.