June 22, 2020
Today is the target date by which most of our campus offices will resume on-campus operations during normal business hours, albeit with generally reduced staffing levels to help ensure compliance with facility capacity limits, social distancing requirements, and other public health safety guidelines.
The health and safety of our faculty, staff, students, and visitors will always be a paramount concern, and a great deal of work has been accomplished in the last several weeks to prepare facilities, stockpile supplies, and refine safety protocols to help ensure a safe workplace.
Our Office of Environmental Health and Safety has been an invaluable resource as we prepared to return to campus. The Office has created a “Safe Campus Guide” that will provide additional information about the work that has been done and will continue to be advanced in the weeks ahead. The Guide also provides important information about how our campus will operate going forward, keeping the health and safety of our people foremost in mind. I encourage everyone to become familiar with this helpful Guide and to refer to it as needed. Please note that the Guide will be updated as public health guidance continues to evolve.
Although covered in more detail in the Guide, I want to highlight a few things. First, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that those who are ill should not come to campus. One of the most important things we can do, now and for the foreseeable future, is to carefully self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, making the choice to stay away from campus if there is any doubt about having contracted the illness. The symptoms are clearly described in the Guide, and we will all be reminded frequently about them through multiple avenues of communication, including highly visible and redundant campus signage.
Second, those who are at risk because of age or pre-existing medical conditions, or those with members of their households who are at risk, should work with their supervisors and Human Resources to explore options to help protect themselves and/or household members from possible exposure to the virus.
Third, as explained in the Guide in detail, we will continue to follow important protective measures, such as frequent hand washing/sanitization, disinfecting high touch surfaces and maintaining a safe distance from others. You will also find directions in the Guide about another important campus requirement - the mandatory use of face masks or coverings. By now, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety should have provided each department with a “Safety Supply Kit” that will help make compliance with these requirements more convenient.
Finally, I want to share with the campus that the Fall Semester Academic Calendar has been modified following discussion with multiple campus constituencies. The new calendar will feature a slightly earlier start date and the elimination of semester breaks and holidays to allow class instruction to end prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday. Final exams will occur remotely after Thanksgiving. Many colleges and universities are adopting similar calendar changes out of concern about a possible resurgence of COVID-19 cases in late fall coinciding with the regular flu season. The new Academic Calendar with complete details will be posted shortly on the University website.
While it is intended that fall classes be delivered in the scheduled format, social distancing requirements and the uncertainty of the pandemic and related public health guidelines at that time may necessitate some changes, including a combination of in-person and remote instruction for classes originally scheduled as face-to-face. The key will be flexibility. ALL classes will need to be prepared to transition to remote delivery on short notice, should the need occur.
I know from ongoing discussions with multiple members of our campus community that there are some who are hesitant to return to campus, and some who would prefer to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Southeastern is a traditional bricks and mortar university, and many aspects of our mission are clearly best accomplished in person. With the tremendous effort of our faculty, staff and students, this spring we learned that we could accomplish almost anything online. We also confirmed, however, what many of us always thought to be true, and that is, as great a tool as technology is, there is no ideal substitute for the personal interaction and caring concern for which our institution is known.
With that in mind, we will proceed cautiously and as safely as reasonably possible to resume more normal campus operations. At the end of the day, at least for the time being, ultimately it will be the sly and unpredictable virus that will determine our pace and extent of return.
As we move toward what we hope will be a reasonable semblance of a normal fall semester and new academic year, there is still much work to do, and I look forward to working with everyone to accomplish it.
As always, I will continue to keep our campus community apprised of new developments.
John L. Crain