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Our return to the campus

A message from UD President Dennis Assanis

Editor's note: UD President Dennis Assanis sent the following letter to the UD community.

Dear UD Community,

I hope this letter finds you in good health as our country and the entire world continue to navigate the severe consequences and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I know this has not been easy on any of you; yet, you rose to the challenge with resolve, innovation and resilience.  Over the past few months, we have been working non-stop to transform that resilience into a continuum of energy that will propel the University of Delaware forward. I appreciate the commitment of our faculty and staff to provide academic continuity for our students, and, particularly the work of the Campus Reopening and Fall Planning Task Force. While this work will continue through the summer, I am writing to share an update on our planning efforts, with more details to come in the weeks ahead.

Before doing so, I want to reinforce the importance of staying safe and healthy, and supporting one another during this troubling time in our world with so much unrest everywhere. As I have shared with you in my letters on June 4 and June 18, we all need to work together to extinguish social injustices and inequalities and strive to redefine a society that is accountable, equitable and inclusive. The University of Delaware condemns racism and acts of violence.  Our connected identity as a community can play an important part in creating positive change to strengthen the values, openness and experience of the UD culture and its impact. This is yet another reason why I want us to all be back together on the campus as soon as possible.

Looking to the fall academic semester, we will need to be both resourceful and flexible. We are planning to reactivate the UD campus and open classrooms and residence halls to students for the fall 2020 semester with the first day of classes being Sept. 1 in a blended format (a mix of face-to-face and online instruction). This goal does not come lightly, as UD leadership continues to work through multiple measures and initiatives in order to enable successful resumption of our campus experience at all locations in Delaware. In all cases, we will continue to adapt the UD campus, operations and curriculum to safeguard the health and well-being of our community.

To this end, we have thus far pursued a phased approach to our on-campus return, beginning with a pilot focus on members of UD’s research community in early June, an ongoing presence of essential working staff, and the recent reentry of some of our student-athletes. Where possible, UD staff members will be encouraged to continue working remotely until further notice in order to minimize the number of individuals working simultaneously in campus spaces. I want to express my appreciation to all of our employees for their patience and understanding as we advance through our reopening phases.

As of now, there are no changes to the dates indicated in the formal academic calendar for fall 2020, except that the start date of the Thanksgiving break will be changed. There are changes to the course delivery mode after the Thanksgiving break (see below), and the University is poised to convert to fully online learning at any time if COVID-19 circumstances dictate.  The items below apply to the fall 2020 semester only; additional guidance will be provided in subsequent communications for the academic year beyond the fall semester.

  • Our plan is to maximize course delivery and instruction through a blended education model (i.e., a mix of face-to-face and online learning), with the intent to offer face-to-face classes as much as possible. This planning addresses the need to minimize transmission and spread of COVID-19, and we will adapt our plan as needed depending on how the COVID-19 situation evolves.
  • Our last day of face-to-face classes will be Nov. 20. We may schedule “exam days” to allow for additional in-person exams prior to the Thanksgiving holiday (Nov. 21, 23, 24); however, the remainder of the fall 2020 semester–including the examination period–will be online after the Thanksgiving holiday break. The date for the start of the Thanksgiving break is still being determined.
  • Courses will be designed to enable reduced class sizes and optimization of our learning environments, taking health and safety considerations into account in all instances. All classes with 49 or more students will be in online format with face-to-face recitation and small-scale interaction opportunities available as best as we can provide them. In the event that UD needs to revert to fully online instruction due to escalation of COVID-19 exposures, all classes will be prepared to do so.
  • For students whose health conditions prevent them from attending class in person and/or international students who are unable to be on campus due to travel restrictions or other circumstances, UD will provide access to a high-quality online course delivery.
  • More specific information pertaining to course/classroom scheduling and protocols that will be implemented for UD students and faculty can be viewed on the Return to Campus website.

Research and Graduate Education will continue to reactivate with revised safety protocols. UD began welcoming researchers–faculty, graduate students and staff–back into its labs, field sites and partner organization facilities in early June. During Phase 1 of research reactivation, more than 700 faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and other essential personnel have returned on a limited basis. Given the continued decrease of COVID-19 in Delaware and based on the success of Phase 1, with its emphasis on revised safety protocols to mitigate against COVID-19 disease transmission, Phase 2 of research reactivation begins this week. The latter phase will expand research operations to include all field-based work, laboratory research will further increase to an indoor density of one person per 250 square feet, and studio activities, such as visual and performing arts and design, will be permitted. Limited human subjects work will be permitted, such as studies for which in-person research interactions can occur, with no added risk, in the context of a clinical care visit. Instructional labs and studio spaces will be available to facilitate the preparation and redesign of fall semester courses. Overall, Phase 2 will bring UD’s on-site research activity to 33% of the research workforce at any one time.

On-campus housing for students will follow a revised schedule and safety protocol. UD students living in on-campus housing will be moving in over an extended period of time ranging from mid- to late August. Move-in for first-year and transfer students will be followed up with UD’s on-campus orientation program, 1743 Welcome Days. All students will be assigned a designated move-in date and time. The Division of Student Life will provide additional information about the move-in process soon to all students who have reserved an on-campus living assignment.

UD Athletics will continue to monitor the public health situation with plans to compete. Student-athletes have begun to return to campus in a phased manner in anticipation of an active fall season of sporting events; these student-athletes are currently being tested in accordance with approved health protocols. We will be making final decisions on athletics in coordination with the CAA Conference, as well as NCAA and CDC guidelines. Of course, all planning for a successful season will rely on regular monitoring and necessary flexibility and compliance with safety measures pertaining to the public health situation. We have not yet made final decisions about Blue Hen fan attendance, but we will be sure to communicate plans to our ticket holders and supporters as those decisions are made.

The health and safety of the UD community are responsibilities that we ALL share. We all want to be back on campus, but this will not be possible without adherence to and enforcement of proper protocols and behavior to respect and promote the health and safety of every member of our community – all students, all faculty, all staff and all visitors. Attention to this factor is especially important for the vulnerable populations within the UD community who may be at higher risk for severe illness. In particular, we are taking a close look at our facilities’ requirements, as well as campus-wide adherence to the UD COVID-19 Return to Campus Guidelines. In its most simple form, the “new normal” of our daily behavior will revolve around responsible attention to (1) daily health screenings, (2) physical distancing, (3) hand hygiene and (4) wearing cloth face coverings.

In the spirit of shared responsibility, we will be asking all members of the UD community to pledge their commitment to support and cultivate a safe and healthy campus environment with compliance and respect. In addition to the responsibilities we must all take upon ourselves as individuals, the University will be implementing the following measures:

  • Testing, Tracing and Tracking: UD continues to rely on guidance provided by science and public health officials to inform details of our testing and contact tracing plan and strategy to help control transmission of the coronavirus. All symptomatic individuals will be tested using FDA-approved tests for active virus through a long-standing partnership between the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services and UD Student Health Services. Screening of a- or pre-symptomatic individuals will include daily symptom check questionnaires for all on campus and surveillance testing as local conditions dictate. Contact tracing to identify those who have come in close contact with COVID-19-positive individuals will be conducted by the Delaware Division of Public Health with the assistance of UD. These new approaches will be implemented while balancing and respecting the privacy concerns they understandably raise. UD is identifying residential housing, medical and food services for students who need to be isolated or quarantined when COVID-positive cases occur.
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting: Campus spaces will be regularly deep cleaned with enhanced protocols and increased frequency following CDC guidelines. In addition, health protocol signage and thousands of new hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout all UD campuses.
  • Space Modifications for Physical Distancing: Many UD spaces–including classrooms, laboratories, the libraries, residence/dining halls and common areas–are being modified to allow for physical distancing. In addition, Plexiglas wellness shields will be installed at relevant reception and point-of-sale locations throughout campuses. Face coverings will be required at all times indoors, and within six feet of others outdoors whenever physical distancing is not possible.
  • Seasonal Flu Vaccination: Seasonal flu vaccination is strongly recommended for all UD students, faculty and staff.

We will continue to support our students: academically, financially and emotionally. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our main goal has been to continue to fulfill our educational mission and keep students on a path of academic progress. We remain committed to that goal, especially through the continuing uncertainty of 2020-21. Even as we make investments to safeguard our students, faculty and staff, and continue to invest heavily in academic online infrastructure and coursework, we recognize that our students and their families are facing unprecedented challenges on many levels.

To this end, we are freezing tuition for the upcoming year in an effort to help ease the financial strain on our students and families, while remaining committed to offer the highest quality academic experience. In addition, all members of the University senior leadership team and I have voluntarily taken salary cuts of 5-10%. Further, we have frozen the salary base for all UD staff for Fiscal Year 2021, with no annual merit increases. I am grateful for our community’s demonstration of sacrifice and commitment to the University during this trying time.

With recognition of increased health factors to take into account during this time, the Student Wellbeing Fee will increase by $250 to meet increased demand of various health services, supporting such areas as expanded telehealth services, cultivating mental health counseling, increasing number of clinicians on the ground and new programming at Warner Hall, which is currently being renovated. The comprehensive fee for students will increase by $120 in order for the University to be able to partially defray increased operating costs, including enhanced student services, notably advising, and contractual and debt service obligations. The housing and dining fees will increase by $264 to partially offset increased operating and custodial costs, as well as dining hall renovations.

Long-term Planning: Monitoring as We Go

As you know, we are all navigating this path forward in real time, responding to new information as it becomes available. We want enlightening academics, an enriching campus culture and a connected community; these goals rely upon the collaboration of everyone – faculty, staff, students and community partners–to do their part to work together to invigorate the success of the campus experience we all cherish, an experience that is uniquely UD.

As your president, I am sharing with you our decisions as of today based on the input and preliminary recommendations from the Campus Reopening and Fall Planning Task Force. Our work will continue to evolve as we actively consider our long-term planning and monitor the public health situation. As we further define details around creating a safe, healthy and thriving campus environment, we have multiple factors to take into account–those that are known and planned, and many that may be unknown and unforeseen. This will impact decisions for academic planning beyond Thanksgiving, and the path we pursue will likely be the one that affords the greatest amount of flexibility possible to yield an enriching educational experience.

I look forward to sharing more information with you as our fall planning task force committees continue to provide their recommendations for a healthy and successful return to campus. For additional updates regarding UD fall reopening initiatives, please keep an eye out for the weekly Fall Planning Updates that will start next week and that will be posted regularly on UDaily. Also, you can regularly visit UD’s Return to Campus website for updated information, including FAQs. As always, please contact relevant offices of expertise pertaining to specific questions you have, and/or email coronavirus@udel.edu.

I thank you for your continued support and understanding. Please remember to care for one another, to stay active as agents of positive change in our world, and know that the strength of the University of Delaware is tied to the strength of its people, and that starts with each and every one of us.

Sincerely,

Dennis Assanis, President

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