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Leadership Messages

A message from Provost Rob Clark about our upcoming academic year

To Our University Community:

Last month we celebrated our graduating class in unprecedented fashion. The pandemic dictated that we put the safety of our community above our desire to gather for an in-person Commencement to recognize our students’ achievements. It meant forgoing many of our most cherished traditions, but the most disappointing difference for me was that we had to do it apart from one another. I now find myself feeling optimistic because this fall we are planning that many of us will be together again on campus.

Although COVID-19 continues to be a source of concern here in Rochester, nationally, and worldwide, we, in close cooperation with New York State, feel prepared to confidently embark on our restart and recovery phase. We continue to be guided by the set of principles I shared with you last month, with the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff foremost in our minds.

Like so many other aspects of our lives today, the fall semester is going to be unlike anything we’ve experienced before. We’re not going to be able to give “welcome back” hugs or “great to see you again” handshakes. We’re not going to be able to gather in large numbers in all of our favorite spaces. In everything we do, we’re all going to have to be mindful of our distance. And we’re all going to have to wear face masks. It’s not going to be the Rochester any of us are used to, and certainly not the Rochester our new and returning students would choose if offered an alternative. But compared to losing a year of opportunity to advance our education, research, and service mission, finding a way to continue in this environment is just part of what defines the University of Rochester and its community. As a leader in the community we call home, Rochester is going to do what it needs to do to help mitigate further—and unnecessary—spread of COVID-19. This responsibility extends to all of us, students, faculty, and staff alike. In this moment, we can make the world ever better by acknowledging that it has changed and that we must change with it.

With that in mind, we are finalizing our comprehensive plan for a phased reopening. The plan has been thoughtfully created by the Coronavirus University Restart Team with assistance from several advisory committees—Academic Affairs and Planning, Public Health, Research Affairs and Planning, Student Affairs, and University Operations—and many individuals across the institution. We are awaiting final guidelines from the Office of the Governor of New York State, which we expect any day, and will share our comprehensive plan with you as soon as it is available and posted on our Restart and Recovery web page. It will include details about:

  • how we’ve restructured the academic year and how we are developing flexible means of teaching to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff and to accommodate all of our students who are unable to join us on campus;
  • how we plan to bring our students to campus safely and to monitor their health throughout the semester;
  • the physical distancing that will be required of all members of our University community, in all of our facilities;
  • the procedures we will follow to ensure our research labs are operated in ways that protect the safety of students, faculty, and other researchers;
  • how we will handle travel requests and requests to bring visitors to our University;
  • how we plan to provide the personal protective equipment (PPE) you will need to safely work, learn, and teach at the University;
  • how we will further protect our students, staff, and faculty by instituting appropriate cleaning and disinfecting procedures in all our facilities; and
  • the communications plan we will follow to keep our community apprised of any new developments.

In the meantime, I want to share information that we know is of great interest to our community. As we proceed, we will make every effort to keep our University community as up to date as possible on news and decisions through a new weekly newsletter, Rochester Restart.

What the fall semester will look like

  • Arts, Sciences & Engineering and Eastman School of Music: Students will begin the academic semester as planned on August 26. We are eliminating the fall break, making the last day of in-person classes November 24, when we break for the Thanksgiving holiday. After that date, all remaining instruction will move online, and undergraduate students will not return to campus. Accommodations will be made for international and domestic students who are unable to return home.
  • Eastman Institute for Oral Health: The academic semester will begin as planned on August 26 and will run through December 9. In accordance with the Medical Center mandate, all instruction will be online for the fall semester. Instructors are currently designing their online courses with guidance from the EIOH Online Teaching/Learning Committee. Clinical training will continue in person, in small groups, taking all necessary precautions, including PPE, physical distancing, and daily health screenings.
  • School of Nursing: The school will maintain its course schedule and will continue offering didactic instruction online for all programs in the fall 2020 semester. Lab and clinical coursework will be held in person, in small numbers, and with appropriate precautionary measures and social distancing.
  • School of Medicine and Dentistry MD Program: Medical students in the first two years of the curriculum will return on August 10th and conclude on December 19. Large group and lecture instruction will be conducted remotely. Small group learning will be conducted in person with appropriate PPE and adhering to accepted distancing standards. Medical students in the third and fourth years of the curriculum will remain engaged in clinical required experiences and electives with appropriate PPE and monitoring. Student support services will be provided virtually.
  • School of Medicine and Dentistry Graduate Education (doctoral, masters and certificate programs): The academic semester will begin as planned on August 26 and will run through December 9. Large group lecture instruction will be conducted remotely. In person/face to face learning will be focused to support experiential learning—i.e. working in a research lab and other hands-on learning and clinical learning—and small classes and group discussions. All in person activities will use appropriate PPE and adhere to accepted distancing standards. When possible, accommodations will be made for students who are not in Rochester due to travel restrictions, health issues, and changes in the undergraduate calendar (for undergraduate students who take SMD courses).
  • Simon Business School: Simon’s graduate classes will begin August 26 and end on December 18. Undergraduate business classes will adhere to the AS&E schedule and format. Graduate courses will be taught using both in-person instruction, to the extent that circumstances permit, and a mix of synchronous and asynchronous content. Accommodations will be provided for students who face complications that limit their ability to be on campus. Since details differ by program, we will be communicating exact protocols with all students.
  • Warner School of Education: The academic semester will begin as planned on August 26 and will run through December 9. Warner has decided to move all instruction online for the fall term. Classes are being designed to meet learning goals for each course using synchronous and/or asynchronous instruction and will occur at the times and dates indicated on the school’s schedule. Warner students who have already registered for the fall do not need to take any additional steps. Those who have not registered are strongly urged to do so to help with planning.

What our students arriving to campus can expect

We plan to stagger the arrival of undergraduate students on campus, which will make it easier to ensure that students can be tested for COVID-19, either at home or upon arrival. A comprehensive schedule for staggered arrival is being developed, and we will circulate it as soon as possible. We have increased the number of single rooms and reduced the overall number of undergraduate students who will be staying in each residence hall. Graduate students will be able to arrive to Rochester as consistent with their specific school or program.

Once on campus, all students will be asked to take a daily Dr. ChatBot health screening survey, which is already in use by faculty and staff at the Medical Center. In fact, the University has released the app as an open-source product so that any university or organization can use it to advance their reopening efforts. Daily screening will help us track symptoms and the possible spread of COVID-19.

Physical distancing will be just as important in the classroom as it will be in other public spaces. This fall, we will offer a mix of online and in-person instruction to our students. For example, lectures in courses with large enrollments will generally be delivered remotely; students will then meet in smaller groups for in-person study sessions and recitations to further explore the material presented in the lectures. To support this, we have upgraded a number of classrooms to have streaming and online capabilities, which will significantly increase the quality of online education in a multimodal environment. In the event that any of our students encounter a barrier to full participation in a course, the Office of Disability Resources will meet with them to establish accommodations.

Schools, libraries, and dining facilities are developing specific plans for learning and shared spaces, including the safest ways for our students to enter and exit dining halls and classrooms and to access materials and collections. Occupancy in classrooms and common and shared areas must allow a minimum of 40 square feet per person. The maximum occupancy in our dining facilities has been reduced by 50 percent.

What our faculty and staff can expect

If you are working remotely, we urge you to continue doing so for the foreseeable future, so long as it has been approved by your supervisor and you are able to fulfill your responsibilities. All of our employees who return to campus will be required to take a daily Dr. ChatBot health screening survey before reporting to work. All meetings where physical distancing cannot be maintained will continue to be conducted electronically. If you have concerns about returning to campus and need accommodations, please consult with your supervisor.

We have developed guidelines for research labs to ensure the safety of our researchers and study subjects and to limit the possibility of cross-contamination in lab spaces. Any research that can be done remotely will continue to be done so in order to keep building and office occupancy to a minimum.

What we can all expect

We all share responsibility for the health and safety of our community. All of our students, faculty, and staff will complete mandatory COVID-19 training prior to returning to campus. This training will be available online in MyPath (faculty and staff) and Blackboard (students).

We will also make PPE readily available to all our students, faculty, and staff. Indoors, we will require that face masks must be worn any time there is more than one person in a given space, including times of brief interaction and anytime it is not possible to maintain a six-foot distance from others. Outside, masks must be worn when six feet of separation is not feasible. Exceptions include employees working alone, being more than six feet from others outdoors, and while eating and/or drinking.

Regarding transportation, shuttle bus capacity will be reduced by 50 percent and limited to seated riders only.

We are Meliora strong

Meliora means a lot things, one of which is to be undaunted by a challenge. It is in our DNA to not just survive—but to thrive—in this crucial time for our University. We know that this community’s fortitude, ingenuity, and camaraderie will preserve the aspects of Rochester we hold dear while making the changes that better prepare for future adversity.

We want to thank all of you for the ways you have already adapted to the many personal and professional challenges the pandemic has created. Your patience, support, and resilience have been critical to our ability to keep moving forward and to keep learning, discovering, healing, and creating. This is how we make the world ever better.

With all the best wishes for your continued health and safety,

Rob Clark

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