Office of the President
Campus Messages

UMD framework for planning and virtual town hall meeting

By Wallace D. Loh

Dear University of Maryland community,

Last Friday, Governor Hogan unveiled his plan for a safe, effective, and gradual approach to reopening public life and the economy of Maryland. The State is now able to begin the transition from the "containment phase" and the "mitigation phase" to the "recovery phase."

Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery is based on four building blocks that are now in place so that recovery can begin: (1) expanded testing capacity, (2) hospital capacity, (3) supply of personal protective equipment, and (4) contact tracing. The Roadmap also identifies three stages of readiness for reopening by businesses and sectors of society -- those at "low risk," or "medium risk," or "high risk" for transmission or resurgence of the virus. Those at low risk can reopen sooner.

The State's plan does not identify the risk level of any business or sector of society. However, research reports by academic institutions -- widely cited in government reports -- list the higher education sector generally as "high risk" because of the frequency and intensity of person-to-person contacts within some areas of campus. However, this risk can be reduced by physical distancing, testing for the virus, and other mitigating actions.

This Roadmap does not set any timeline for the recovery, because "the virus dictates the speed with which the State can move." You can read the State's plan here.

University System of Maryland (USM) guidance on reopening of campuses
Chancellor Perman has formed a "Campus Advisory Group" to assist in "planning for resumption of on-site activities" of USM institutions. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach given the uniqueness of each campus, it is important that there be coordination of reopening efforts and alignment with the criteria set forth in the State's Roadmap.

UMD's planning for a phased reopening of the physical campus
Now that the State and USM have provided the green light to begin planning for reopening, the University leadership team is making plans for a safe and gradual process for the resumption of in-person operations. There will not be a single date for the full reopening of the physical campus. Like the statewide plan, our transition will be guided by public health expertise.

UMD's framework for planning the reopening is informed by four principles:
* Prioritize the health and safety of every member of our campus 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 and obtain input from internal and external stakeholders about the proposed reopening plans.

To use an architectural image -- a classic Greek temple with columns or pillars standing on a foundation -- the planning framework has three "foundational blocks" consisting of three task forces on health and safety, finances, and human resources. These blocks support four "pillars," consisting of four work-groups on research, education, student life and intercollegiate athletics, which are four large areas of institutional operations. At the temple?s pediment, the triangular area above the columns and below the roof, are the State of Maryland and USM. The plan for re-opening the campus should be aligned with their guidelines.

Task force on health and safety planning.
This is the paramount priority in any reopening. We must plan for the contingency of a resurgence of COVID-19, and the further possibility in the months ahead of a concurrent COVID-19 pandemic and flu epidemic, as the CDC recently warned. We must comply with public health requirements in effect at that time (e.g., testing for the virus and tracing contacts; mandatory face masks; etc.).

Task force on fiscal planning.
In a previous letter, I described the very substantial revenue losses and increased expenses that UMD -- and all higher education institutions across the nation, public and private -- have incurred because of the pandemic and the resulting economic/financial crisis. We have already suspended hiring and limited spending. We are awaiting definitive information from the State regarding its fiscal circumstances and the impacts on the State's budget. We are also advocating for another round of Federal CARES bailout funding for higher education. Plans for when and how to reopen must take into account the projected fiscal impacts on the institution.

Task force on human resources planning.
About 70% of the University's budget is in personnel. Amidst these crises, we will endeavor to support all of our employees as best as we can.

The pillars
Each pillar consists of a work group:
(1) Research
(2) Education
(3) Student life
(4) Intercollegiate athletics

The three foundational task forces provide needed technical expertise to the four work-groups charged with planning on how to resume, in person, the work of the University. The membership of these task forces and work-groups are being finalized and will be announced.

It is important to note that different activities may reopen at different times. For example, resumption of our research enterprise and the reopening of laboratories could precede the resumption of intercollegiate athletics competition. Or, some large introductory courses might continue to be delivered remotely to students on campus, if there are not enough large classrooms to allow for appropriate physical distancing. Hence, the reopening process has to be phased-in gradually. We want to turn on one faucet at a time, not open the floodgates.

Virtual town hall meeting of the University community: May 5 at 3 PM
This is an opportunity to share your thoughts and ask any questions on the impact of the public health crisis, and the ensuing social isolation, on our students, faculty and staff. Several University leaders will join me to respond to concerns or questions about the pandemic and its life-altering impacts. We may not have answers to every question, but it is important to remain connected as best as we can in this time of physical distancing. An official invitation to this town hall meeting will follow.

Thank you
Over the past several weeks, I have been impressed by the resilience of our students, faculty, and staff. Under trying circumstances, members of our community have continued to learn and teach and work remotely, and through it all, you have prioritized the health and well-being of each other. For how well you have continued to carry on your responsibilities, I thank you.

Together, we will steward our University through this time of crisis. This will position UMD to help shape the post-pandemic "new normal." It is an opportunity to build an even stronger University, one that can help create an even better, more united, and more equal America.

With appreciation and in solidarity,

Wallace D. Loh
President, University of Maryland