Dear University of Maryland community,
As a nation, we are at a crucible moment in our history. We face a pandemic that has caused widespread illness and death, and an economic crisis with the highest unemployment rate in a generation. The toll of both has been borne disproportionately by communities of color in America, as well as the most disadvantaged among us.
Recently, we have seen the largest and most sustained mass protests in half a century against anti-black racism. The demands for justice have prompted other institutions, including higher education, to confront systemic racism embedded in organizational culture and policies.
At the time of our nation's greatest peril, President Lincoln said that "a house divided cannot stand." He believed that America cannot be a free and equal democracy and, at the same time, tolerate inequality and injustice. I am heartened to see the large number of peaceful and racially diverse demonstrators for equity and justice. I believe there is more that unites us than what divides us -- that in the face of injustice and suffering, there is underlying solidarity, compassion, and hope.
Seeing all the young people in these protests calls to mind John Dewey's observation that democracy must be reborn in every generation, and education lies at the heart of this rebirth. I am confident that our University community will meet the crucible moment. This is an opportunity for transformation. Our Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Georgina Dodge, will lead a campus-wide effort of senior administrators, faculty, staff and students to increase shared understandings, spur changes in policy, and promote actions to combat institutionalized racism.
Mindful of the disparate impacts of COVID-19, our planning for a phased and safe reopening of the physical campus takes into account considerations of equity and inclusion.
Framework and plans for phased re-opening of the campus in fall 2020
Over the past several weeks, the University has been engaged in an extensive and collaborative effort to develop a framework and plans for the phased reopening in fall semester 2020. This planning has been coordinated with state and county officials and guided by recommendations of the University System of Maryland (USM). The University leadership is also consulting with the University Senate leadership in this planning process.
Seven work-groups, and numerous subcommittees, have worked tirelessly on these plans. In all, over 200 faculty, staff, administrators, and outside experts have been involved in this planning process.
Four core principles inform the work of these groups:
- Prioritize the health and safety of every member of the University community.
- Protect and support the educational and research missions to maintain academic excellence.
- Make decisions grounded in our values of equity and inclusion.
- Provide timely and transparent communication to, and obtain feedback from, internal and external stakeholders about the proposed plans.
I will briefly highlight the work group plans, and additional information will continue to be added to umd.edu/virusinfo. Risk management of COVID-19 is an evolving process. The disease is evolving. Scientific and clinical knowledge of the disease is evolving. The risks cannot be eliminated, but they can be reduced. We are putting into place the personnel, organizational structures, and plans to manage as responsibly as possible these risks as we gradually re-open the campus. The University's response will evolve until a vaccine or treatment is available.
Health and safety: a multifaceted and integrated plan for COVID-19 surveillance, testing, and early warning
The University 's plan has five components to safely reopen and operate the campus, with early identification of infectious cases as the key to limit outbreaks.
(1) Daily self-monitoring and reporting of temperature and any onset of symptoms by all faculty, staff, and students who are on campus. Temperature gauges will be provided and the reporting can be done electronically, or by filling out a form, with safeguards for personal data privacy. If there is fever and/or symptoms, diagnostic testing for SARS-COV2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, will be required. If the test is positive, consultation with a health care provider and isolation will be required.
(2) Population surveillance testing to ascertain the baseline infection rate on campus. At this time, our goal is to make this testing available to all faculty and staff who wish to be tested, and to consider requiring it of all students on campus. The CDC guidance is to test only when there are symptoms. However, as some public health experts have pointed out, this guidance does not take into account the fact that a large percentage of infected persons are asymptomatic.
Our University Health Center conducted a pilot test project last week that involved about 250 volunteer faculty and staff and student athletes. Nurse externs administered a nasal swab that is quick and painless. The swab specimens were sent to a lab at the UMB Medical School for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, and the results came back 24 hours later.
(3) Contact tracing. Any positive diagnostic test result will be communicated immediately to the state health authorities, who will then activate a contact tracing team to identify potential secondary cases to limit spread of infection. UMD will supplement, as needed, the state-administered tracing. We have also established early contract tracing on our own campus.
(4) Environmental monitoring. UMD faculty experts are developing opportunities for early detection of impending illnesses by monitoring wastewater, air and high-touch surfaces in campus buildings. This early warning system can identify areas of concern to help prevent additional outbreaks.
(5) Behavioral changes. There will be a campus-wide health information campaign to promote critical healthy behaviors: wear face covering at all times when in proximity to others; stay 6 feet apart from others; frequent handwashing; and stay home and rest, if sick.
Learning and teaching
Provost Mary Ann Rankin is working to support faculty in creating new and engaging curricula -- blended, online, and in-person -- together with co-curricular opportunities in order to maximize student learning and development. Members of our faculty have submitted more than 150 proposals to develop courses.
Work continues to determine exactly which courses will be offered in-person, online or in a blended format and what the room assignments and daily schedule will be. We expect that some portion of upper and lower division undergraduate courses will be taught in-person with priority given to classes that particularly need in-person instruction to be maximally effective such as labs, performance courses, senior capstone projects, clinical instruction and internships. Because 6 feet of physical distancing limits the number of students that can be accommodated in a classroom, it is likely that most courses with 50 or more students will be at least partially online, while low-enrollment classes such as graduate and upper-division seminars will be good candidates for in-person instruction.
Faculty are also in workshops on personalizing and enriching the learning experience of students, regardless of the modality of course delivery. These changes, born of necessity, could end up transforming learning and teaching at UMD long after the pandemic is over.
Additional information should be available online by mid-July. Summer Session I and II instruction is being delivered remotely. We will begin the fall semester on August 31, 2020 as scheduled. Faculty are also preparing contingency plans to move entirely to online instruction after Thanksgiving break, should there be a resurgence of the pandemic in late fall.
Under the leadership of Laurie Locascio, VP for Research for both UMD and UMB, our large research enterprise that employs thousands of research support staff, will re-open in several phases. Currently in Phase 1 ("limited presence"), only about 25% of all researchers are back in their campus labs. In Phase 2 ("intermediate presence"), proposed to start in September 2020, about 50% of the researchers will return. In Phase 3 ("full resumption"), proposed to start in January 2021, 75% of the researchers will be back on campus.
Student life: housing, dining, co-curricular activities, mental health and wellness
A residential experience is an important component of the collegiate experience. VP for Student Affairs Patty Perillo and her team worked closely with public health experts and with Prince George's County and College Park officials on the housing plan.
There are 8,900 bed spaces in University residence halls. To de-densify, triples and quad units are converted to doubles, and floor lounges are made into single or double rooms to minimize the opportunities for larger gatherings. The approved plan is to offer University housing to more than 75% of all the students who applied for housing, including all first year students. This plan also sets aside residential spaces for isolation and quarantining, if needed. Extensive procedures are also being implemented for the safety and health of Resident Life staff, housekeeping staff, and facilities staff who work in the residence halls.
Dining halls will open with reduced seating capacity, carry-out options, and physical distancing. Stamp Student Union, Eppley Recreation Center, and other community gathering places will reopen with appropriate health and safety measures in place. Co-curricular programming will emphasize outdoor and virtual activities. Once the fall semester begins, the University Health Center and the Counseling Center will be open for both in person medical assistance and counseling, as well as online options for support.
The Athletics Department has a comprehensive plan to safely return to training, practice, competition, and work that complies with public health guidelines as well as NCAA and Big Ten Conference requirements.
Last week, football student-athletes were tested for COVID-19. They will undergo a complete physical examination and undertake daily monitoring of temperature and symptoms. Only individual training is permitted, on a voluntary basis, with physical distancing. Pending guidance from health officials, the extent of permissible training activities will be expanded gradually.
Whether athletic teams can resume competition this fall, and under what conditions, is unknown at this time, pending decisions by the NCAA and the athletic conferences.
To de-densify the campus and ensure physical distancing, the gradual return to campus of faculty and staff will be phased over several months. Remote work, alternating days for in-person staffing, and staggered arrivals/departures will be part of the gradual re-opening.
Requirements for returning to work on campus can be found in a video at: return.umd.edu. Please note that the video contains a "UMD COVID-19 Community Responsibility Pledge." In the spirit of solidarity, it is imperative that we share the responsibility for the safety and health of other members of our community.
A similar pledge and COVID-19 training will be prepared and given to students when they arrive on campus.
The University is working with USM, and USM is working with the State, on the enormous budget impacts of COVID-19. At this time, the State's Department of Budget and Management has not yet released its proposed budget. We anticipate that there will be budget reductions, but we do not yet know their magnitude. We expect that furloughs or temporary salary reductions will have to be implemented, and we will share additional details as soon as we receive the proposed state budget.
In conclusion, to the scores of faculty, staff, and students who have worked tirelessly in helping develop the framework and plans for the safe and gradual re-opening of the University, starting in fall 2020, I want to say THANK YOU! Because of your work, I am confident that we will re-open the campus safely, and that our State's flagship university will emerge from this trying time as an even stronger institution.
Please submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and your question will be directed to the appropriate campus unit.
May you all stay safe and be well.
Wallace D. Loh
President, University of Maryland