Like every other R1 university, we are grappling with challenges of advancing our mission in these extraordinary times. Today, I am outlining a transparent academic plan for how we seek to mitigate known and anticipated impacts of COVID-19. This plan is built by starting with the question of “How Can We.” How can we operate to maximally advance the intellectual development of our students and support their success? How can we operate in ways that support our goal of advancing as a research university? How can we continue to demonstrate that we are a creative and caring community?
After consulting with our academic and faculty senate leaders, I am outlining a set of measures we are implementing to support our academic mission, recognizing that this is a living plan that will be continually adjusted as we learn more and the situation becomes clearer. Implementing this plan will require everyone to contribute and work together for the success of our students and university.
We are carefully monitoring public health conditions, including infection rates in our region and state and seeking guidance from county and state health officials. At this time we are beginning the reopening process.
In order to support the reopening of our campus, we will be phasing in academic activities.
- Beginning May 4th faculty and staff members can return to campus to visit their office/workspace to gather materials that may be needed to continue telecommuting. You are asked to carry your Campus ID, wear a mask, engage in social distancing and limit your time in your office.
- Beginning May 4th we will begin to restart certain on-campus research activities.
- Beginning June 1st we will be offering limited in-person student access to experiential learning spaces, as communicated by the College.
- Beginning July 6th we will be offering limited in-person instruction focused on experiential learning, in-person student support services and begin to reopen clinical operations. The second summer session offers us the opportunity to test our protocols and refine our processes.
- In the fall semester, we will resume in-person instructional delivery and student support services.
The following offers further detail on key aspects of the plan.
Continuity of Teaching
The 5 Week Summer 1 session will allow limited access by students to certain learning spaces, such as MFA studios and music practice space. The 5 Week Summer 2 session limited in-person instruction will be offered. Colleges will provide guidance on access to facility use by students.
We will be moving to a blended delivery model for the fall semester. This strategy will prioritize experiential courses to be offered in person and for limited lecture courses to be offered based on classroom availability to support social distancing.
The Learning Spaces Strategies Committee, chaired by John Quintanilla and including representatives from key offices across campus and faculty, has been charged to assess options and aid in implementing an educational delivery plan for fall. They are working as quickly as possible to ensure all details are covered. Below are actions that will take place to transition to a blend of in-person, remote and online delivery:
- All classes that have sections of 200 or more students are being asked to transition to fully-online courses for the fall semester. This action is being taken because social distancing is not possible for classes of this size in our largest classrooms. Mike McPherson is working with Associate Deans to identify these instructors and coordinate who will have responsibility for online course development.
- Courses that have an existing online option will be asked to convert as many of the in-person sections to online as possible to free up classroom space for courses that are not currently available in an online option.
- Courses that can be delivered remotely will be asked to do so.
- All colleges will be asked to provide a plan for how specialized classroom spaces, such as labs, studios, clinics and ensemble rooms, can be utilized and meet social distancing requirements.
- In order to support use of our specialized teaching environments, we will expand schedules to include weekend course section options, as needed.
- We will be seeking to expand where teaching happens, exploring the utilization of event spaces in the Gateway and Union, as examples.
- We are asking for practical solutions to delivering instruction, to allow students to use in-person class time for the interactive components of courses.
- The committee will work toward prioritization of classrooms such as supporting courses for first-year students living on campus, graduate students in research experiences, and courses required for timely progress to graduation.
- In academic programs with large numbers of international students, we are offering a virtual option for new students to begin their program this fall and join us later once they can obtain a visa and travel to our campus. And we will work to ensure those whose visa requires they receive in-person instruction are able to do so.
To aid in preparations, I am asking that every faculty member and teaching fellow scheduled to teach in the fall participate in the Remote Instruction Training Course, taking 3-6 hours to complete. President Smatresk and I have created a fund to provide a $500 task payment for those who complete the course by July 6. Stipends will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis until funds are exhausted (with at least 250 stipends available). The remote training course, along with pre-populated course shells will be made available no later than June 1 in Canvas. Within two weeks of completing the course, they will be contacted by Bertina.Combes@unt.edu regarding details of eligibility for a task payment.
Additionally, CLEAR will be offering professional development programming beginning the week of May 11th to help our faculty improve skills in remote instructional delivery. The program schedule is available at https://clear.unt.edu/getting-started-online-session-registrations.
Continuity of Student Services
- The Governor, as part of the Reopening Texas plan, has asked for the reopening of libraries. Willis Library is currently open and operating with limited hours.
- Student services will continue to be delivered virtually through July 5th.
- Student services will shift from all virtual to a hybrid providing options for students to seek services in person or virtually, with all services to provide social distancing beginning July 6.
- Our campus is a place where students engage in intense social interactions in the libraries, computer labs and other informal learning locations. We ask each unit to examine opportunities to improve social distancing and prepare a plan for resuming in-person operations.
Continuity of Research
The Division of Research and Innovation has a Research Re-Opening Plan.Every research faculty and staff member should review this plan carefully.
- Pre-operational support activities, including University Core Research Support Labs, Stockrooms, Greenhouses and specialized equipment labs may begin preparations to support the restart of research beginning May 4.
- Research that can be completed in a university research space, not involving in-person human subjects, with social distancing may recommence starting May 8.
- Research that involves in-person human subjects or in-person clinical research may not occur until such time as guidance is provided otherwise. It is anticipated that these activities could recommence as early as July.
- Invitations for visiting scholars will be permitted once the CDC travel advisory levels fall below 2. And for previously scheduled scholars they can come to UNT once their country of origin falls below level 2.
Continuity of Clinical Operations
- Clinical operations serving adults that can occur with social distancing may resume operations as early as July 6 with an approved social distancing and hygiene plan.
- Clinics unable to provide social distancing should provide a plan which will include details for addressing PPE requirements to support safe operations, training for all staff members and students. The plan should also address proper waste disposal as outlined by UNT Risk Management Services.
- Clinics that serve minors and cannot engage in social distancing, must implement the requirements above AND complete a risk assessment review conducted by Youth Protection.
- The university will monitor public health directives around the number of people that can gather and further guidance will provided as information becomes available.
- No large gatherings will be permitted on campus through July 5. We will provide further guidance on gathering precautions at that point.
- For planning purposes, academic units should not plan or schedule large gatherings for the remainder of the summer or fall, until such time as guidance is provided otherwise. As I know many events require months of advance planning, I encourage you to plan to host conferences and other large events virtually.
- All gatherings must employ social distancing.
- Domestic and international travel will be prohibited for non-essential business purposes until the CDC provides guidance that travel for non-essential business purposes is safe. People who have travelled internationally, or to domestic hotspots, for personal reasons should notify Risk Management and self-isolate for two weeks before coming to campus.
- External visitors to academic units will not be permitted through the remainder of the summer. Postpone issuing invitations to external visitors to academic units for the fall until such time as guidance is provided otherwise.
- No study abroad programs will be planned for the fall semester and winter session.
- Given travel uncertainties, for those who are planning Faculty Development Leave for the 20-21 academic year, you can request a deferral of the FDL by one year.
- Faculty are encouraged to communicate with the conference organizers to advocate for virtual conference options during the fall semester.
- Faculty and staff are strongly urged not to travel for the two weeks prior to the start of the Fall semester.
- Planning for university-sponsored travel for students should be postponed until such time as guidance is provided otherwise.
Keeping our students, staff and faculty healthy and safe
This plan can only be implemented through the collaborative efforts of our campus community. Supporting our academic mission means that we must create a safe learning environment by helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
For example, the CVAD Textile Fabrication Lab, under the leadership of Lab Manager Abby Sherrill, is sewing cloth masks for staff on campus. In addition, the Office of Business and Finance is purchasing masks and other Personal Protective Equipment in an effort to be prepared when the campus operations resume.
The Emergency Operations Center, with counsel from Associate Professor of Rehabilitation and Health Services Ami Moore, is developing a campus risk exposure program to identify people who have come in contact with someone who has a known case of COVID-19.
Protocols for health and safety are under development and further guidance will provided. As one example, you may be asked to provide assigned seats to each student in your class and to take attendance at each class session, in support of a tracing program.
High Risk Faculty and Staff
We recognize that a number of our academic faculty and staff are considered high-risk, according to CDC guidelines. Those in high-risk categories will be offered the opportunity to continue their work in a virtual format, wherever possible, without hindering our academic mission. Academic faculty and staff should make a request to HR for the continuation of telecommuting through the Summer if they or someone they live with are in a high-risk category. If the role is conducive to continued telecommuting the work assignment may be adjusted. A process for requesting fall telecommuting will be forthcoming. If the role is not conducive to continued telecommuting due to the needs of the position the employee will be referred to Human Resources to discuss options.
The challenges posed as a result of COVID-19 are multi-dimensional, and we know they will change over time. We are being called upon to make decisions that will advance our university’s mission during the recovery phase. This means we will have to adapt the way we do things. We must ensure we are focusing on our most compelling priorities. These decisions are not easy.
I am eternally grateful for the partnership with Faculty Senate, and particularly the leadership of Denise Catalano who has served as a wise counsel in this difficult period.
We are committed to providing as many details about the fall semester by July 1. This next year will be challenging for our university, alongside other universities. I have every confidence that we will be able to demonstrate our university’s caring, resiliency and creativity as we deliver on our mission and help our students thrive.