May 20, 2020
Dear UT Community,
Yesterday, we shared plans with staff and faculty members about the second phase of financial mitigation measures the university is taking in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. These will involve very difficult employment decisions affecting staff members in revenue-generating units, including possible furloughs and reductions in force. Revenue-generating units fund their operations in a variety of ways, including through service charges, fees and memberships. Their budgets primarily come from providing services to paying internal or external customers.
These measures are necessary because of the impact of COVID-19 on the university’s finances. They will affect our co-workers, colleagues and friends significantly, and we hope that you will show understanding for those in revenue-generating units. Moving forward, we will continue to address hard financial realities, and it is likely that there will be more difficult employment decisions to make in the months ahead.
As the spring semester comes to an end with commencement this weekend, our six working groups continue to plan for the upcoming fall semester, and we have begun to make some key decisions:
Fall Semester Schedule
The fall semester will begin as scheduled on August 26, and classes will run until Thanksgiving. Students will not return after Thanksgiving and, instead, will participate in reading days and final exams remotely. With COVID-19 still expected to be active this fall, we hope to avoid the possibility of students becoming infected during the Thanksgiving break and then spreading the virus to classmates upon their return after Thanksgiving. We are still developing the details for how this new schedule will affect course syllabi, residence hall living and other key campus functions. We will continue to provide additional information as we move forward.
In-person Commencement Ceremonies
Since students will not be returning to campus after Thanksgiving, all in-person commencement ceremonies for the fall semester will be postponed. This is another difficult but critical decision, given the continued risks associated with the spread of COVID-19.
Our planned in-person, university-wide commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 will take place on campus at some point in 2021. Spring and fall 2020 graduates will be invited to this in-person celebration. The date and plans for this event will depend on the evolving COVID-19 situation, and we will update our graduates as soon as we have a clear sense of when we can host all of them safely. We thank our 2020 graduates for their understanding and flexibility as we work to provide them with a celebration that is fitting of their extraordinary achievements.
The university-wide virtual commencement ceremony will take place this Saturday night as planned.
During the next few days, we will announce specific plans for resuming research on campus. Research is at the core of UT’s mission, and during the COVID-19 crisis, our researchers have been busy working to track and fight the spread of the disease while continuing a limited number of other critical and time-sensitive projects. Now, it’s time for a larger force of our researchers in the social and behavioral sciences and humanities, as well as the natural sciences, to return to what they do best: finding solutions to global problems, addressing important societal issues and improving life for people around the world.
Lab directors and principal investigators will be given direction on the university’s “Research Restart” plan, including how to apply to reopen their operations and the necessary steps they must take, including safety precautions and required mitigation plans.
Masks on Campus
Throughout the summer months, all UT employees who are authorized to work on campus must cover their faces with a mask or cloth-covering at all times unless they are in a private office or space. As we have seen with the recent positive tests among several staff members, there is still a very real risk of the virus spreading, and we must take appropriate precautions.
Updates from Working Groups and Campus Announcements
Below, you will find summaries from the working groups, followed by additional news and policy announcements.
This has been a very challenging week for our community. Just know that we are in this together, and we will get through this together. Thank you for your dedication and understanding as we navigate this ongoing crisis.
Gregory L. Fenves
Interim President Designate
The Health and Wellness Working Group has finalized a model that estimates how many COVID-19 tests will be needed each day for symptomatic testing and surveillance screening at UT. This estimate is being used for procuring tests, building an infrastructure for testing/tracing and surveillance, and purchasing related materials such as personal protective equipment for health care workers. The working group has created a testing and surveillance plan for summer students and staff members, and is currently developing a plan for the fall.
Testing for symptomatic patients, as well as surveillance testing for students, staff and faculty, will be available on campus when the UT campus opens in the fall. Based on our modeling strategy and best available evidence, more than 500 tests will be needed daily. Efforts are underway to increase overall testing capacity, including a collaboration between Dell Medical School and the College of Natural Sciences to establish a new lab for additional testing.
In coordination with other working groups, the health behaviors subgroup is drafting guidelines and a recommendation for face coverings, social distancing in classrooms, daily screenings, events/gatherings, contact tracing applications and more.
The mental health and well-being subgroup has compiled a list of resources, programs and initiatives available to support faculty, staff and students. They are also identifying potential gaps in, as well as possible adaptations required of, these resources, programs and initiatives.
The members of the Academic Planning Working Group have received input from many students, faculty and staff that has helped them refine their ideas about scheduling and health and safety practices on campus for students and UT employees in the fall. The academic task forces are working to improve the quality of online learning and are actively exploring approaches to internships and other forms of experiential learning, as well as ways of improving safety in teaching labs, performance spaces and studios.
Much effort is being devoted to exploring issues specific to graduate students — particularly doctoral students whose research and academic career prospects have been disrupted by the pandemic.
A newly launched academic task force is addressing how the variety of programs that teach students about clinical practice can be run safely and effectively. This task force is grappling with the special problems that arise for programs in which core skills can be learned only through interactions with patients and clients.
The Student Life and Engagement Working Group is collecting and reviewing national guidelines and tools related to on-campus and virtual student engagement in order to consider their effectiveness. Other efforts underway include the creation of a central student portal where students will participate in virtual events across campus and with one another.
The housing, food and facilities task force is reviewing various scenarios for reopening on-campus residence halls, dining/food service venues and other facilities. This task force is also providing data to assist with the creation of social distancing and masking guidelines.
The Student Life and Engagement Working Group is also exploring mobile applications for monitoring the flow of pedestrian traffic on campus and in buildings, and ways to expand contactless check-ins and transactions with Central ITS.
The care and prevention task force is discussing mental health care, wellness and education initiatives and the provision of programs and services. The student input and messaging task force is putting together a cross-campus working group to expand student input and messaging strategies, in consultation with University Communications. The first meeting occurred with representatives of the Graduate Student Assembly, Student Government, the Senate of College Councils and the COVID-19 student committee.
Interim Vice President for Research Alison Preston presented a draft “Research Restart” plan on May 15 to the Fall Planning Executive Committee. This plan is a phased approach to resuming research operations safely at UT this summer in labs, libraries and other UT research spaces.
The Research Working Group comprises associate deans for research representing more than a dozen colleges and schools. The group is working closely with campus directors, clinicians and Environmental Health and Safety. Its priority is to ensure that researchers have the resources, supplies and guidelines needed to work safely with their teams and with patients and human subjects. Each college and school will put a process in place for researchers to submit requests to resume research operations during the coming weeks. This process will help the leaders of colleges and schools make sure their research spaces are prepared for occupancy.
The Operations Working Group has created four task forces: Readiness, which includes campus and workspace navigation and facilities readiness; Strategic Sourcing; Financial Planning for Auxiliaries and Tuition; and Human Resources. The working group continues to develop plans that will inform how facilities should be prepared; what equipment should be procured, stored and distributed; and what policies should be implemented to safely accommodate students, staff, faculty and visitors.
Vice President and Athletics Director Chris Del Conte and the Athletics senior leadership team have developed contingency plans, policies and procedures to work toward bringing UT coaches, staff members and student-athletes back to campus in the safest and most efficient manner. Four task forces were assigned to design plans and oversee implementation for each possibility.
Athletics’ first priority is developing policies and procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, while returning an essential group of football coaches and support staff to campus for a Phase One trial through the end of May.
The layered plan includes training and education programs using the Texas Athletics Employee Guide for COVID-19. Next steps include staff members completing an online COVID-19 symptoms questionnaire each day before leaving home, and then a thorough screening process that includes a temperature check upon arrival at the designated entry. Once at work, employees will follow a number of best health practices for the workplace, including social distancing, wearing face coverings at all times, regularly washing/sanitizing hands, and a robust plan for cleaning and disinfecting all work and common spaces before, during and after departure. This Phase One process will be monitored and evaluated.
The university will be asking UT community members to participate in four surveys during the coming weeks. These are designed to gather feedback on changes the university has made while managing the COVID-19 crisis and to provide a forum for community members to share individual perspectives, experiences and needs. The surveys are:
The Undergraduate and Graduate Student Survey, which will be administered May 27.
The Faculty Survey, which will be administered later this month.
The TA Survey, which will be administered in June.
The Staff Survey, which will be administered in June.
Information about the surveys will be emailed directly to the specific groups. Faculty, staff and administrators will analyze the results from these four upcoming surveys and share them across campus to improve planning and procedures moving forward.
In yesterday’s presidential message, furloughs were introduced as a potential option for staff members from revenue-generating units. Please see the FAQs regarding Voluntary Furloughs if you have questions.
For further guidance on timekeeping in May, please click here.
Summer session registration is still open. Students can learn more about registration here. And as a reminder, once summer session starts, there will be another opportunity for students to apply for CARES Act funding.