On Friday afternoon, March 20, I began working almost exclusively from home. I worried that interaction with others was unsafe.
This was quite a change for me. My job typically involves spending time with faculty, staff and students, being on campus, traveling to meet with friends of the university, advocating in the state capitol, and representing the university in our community.
I especially love this time of year as we celebrate the achievements of our employees and graduates. I wasn’t sure how it would go, to be honest. But here I am – 15 pounds lighter after being off the banquet circuit and realizing that we can be successful in alternative work modes.
Now is it ideal? Certainly not. Am I sad about commencement, a curtailed end for our seniors and challenging learning situations for our students? Absolutely.
But I think we all have learned that as a university, we can be more flexible than we thought, and we have an opportunity to learn and grow from this.
Last week our state and local elected leaders announced plans to ease restrictions related to the coronavirus. I believe Mayor Ken McClure, Commissioner Bob Dixon and Greene County Health Director Clay Goddard have done an outstanding job balancing health concerns with economic realities in crafting a very thoughtful reopening plan.
We will follow their lead as we prepare for our return to campus by slowly easing restrictions for our campus community.
While there may certainly be a desire by some to rush back to campus, we have to recognize that for the good of all, a slower, measured return will enable us to more successfully manage through these challenging circumstances.
Summer classes and SOAR
As we head into summer, campus will slowly spring back to life. All summer classes will be online. However, some other summer activities will occur in-person on campus with appropriate precautions in place.
The SOAR schedule has been adjusted. Sessions will begin July 6.
Some of these sessions will be virtual. Others will be in person with precautions in place to manage risk and ensure social distancing for everyone involved.
We want to provide our incoming students and their families with options that are comfortable for them.
Looking to the fall semester
Please know that we are keenly aware of the lower risks for students and the higher risks for faculty and staff. However, we will have seated classes and students living in residence halls in the fall.
We are consulting with experts and working with government officials to make appropriate adjustments designed to keep our campus community safe.
- More classes than usual will be offered online or in a hybrid format.
- Faculty are engaging in training to ensure all virtual classes are delivered in a quality manner with high academic rigor.
- We are encouraging all faculty members to have contingency plans in place to deliver their classes virtually should the need arise.
- We will adopt and strongly encourage social distancing practices in classrooms, residence halls, and dining and gathering spaces on campus.
- Some campus events will be canceled and others adjusted to reduce size and enable social distancing.
- We are designing a new housing strategy that will accommodate this new mode of campus living.
A successful return to a meaningful on-campus experience is going to require a strong testing protocol and established quarantine accommodations. It will also require travel restrictions and return-to-campus guidelines that focus on the safety of the campus.
It won’t be convenient or easy. But our goal is to offer our students the higher education experience they expect under challenging circumstances.
Returning to campus slowly
We will complete this semester following current restrictions. Only critical workers are encouraged to be on campus.
Faculty and staff should continue to work from home as much as possible. Staff on 2/3 pay will remain in that category until otherwise notified by their supervisor.
Beginning May 11, supervisors will have discretion to allow employees to return to campus on a limited basis. Under no circumstances should all non-critical workers be immediately instructed to return to campus full-time.
The transition back to campus should be gradual, matching the gradual decline of coronavirus cases in our community.
By late June, many of our campus operations — particularly those involving prospective students who will be on campus for SOAR — will be underway. When students return to campus in mid-August, campus operations will be mostly restored.
Existing travel restrictions will remain in place through at least the end of June. They may be extended depending on the status of the virus at that time and the advice we receive from health experts.
Case-by-case exceptions to the travel restrictions may be granted by the provost or myself for travel of small groups to certain locations.
Supervisors design plans for return
There is not a one-size-fits-all plan that works for every office and operation at the university. Supervisors must design custom return-to-work plans that fit the needs of their offices and employees. For some, this will involve employees returning to campus more quickly. For others, this will involve employees returning to campus slowly.
Some offices will implement work-from-home arrangements on a more permanent basis. Our policies have long provided for telecommuting.
I will continue to work primarily from home through June. However, I will begin to return to campus on an as-needed basis. For example, next week I plan to be on campus to ensure I have a reliable internet connection for our Board of Governors virtual meetings.
I anticipate that I will gradually work on campus more as the summer goes on. Assuming the current coronavirus trajectory continues, I plan to be back on campus full-time before the semester begins in August.
I will continue to use Zoom for almost all of my meetings in the immediate future and for group meetings where social distancing isn’t available.
Maintaining social distancing in offices
Social distancing and compliance with national, state and local restrictions must be part of all return-to-work plans. Employees should continue to stay more than six feet away from one another, wash their hands and avoid group meetings where social distancing isn’t possible. We should all continue to use technology and virtual meeting resources.
The university will work with employees who are immunocompromised or have other health concerns through our existing workplace accommodations process. For more information about this process, please refer to the University’s Employee Disability Accommodations Policy and Procedure or contact Julia Holmes, deputy compliance officer, at JuliaHolmes@MissouriState.edu.
The health and wellness of our faculty, staff and students is a high priority for the board and our leadership team. We will do everything we can to take appropriate precautions as we develop plans to reopen our university.
Attend virtual town hall meeting
At 10:30 a.m. May 20, we will host a virtual town hall meeting. We will focus on the university’s plans to reopen campus and the FY2021 budget, but your input and questions will be welcome on any topic.
You can find information about how to participate in the meeting online.
Thanks for all you do for Missouri State!
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