May 15, 2020
As you have likely read, UNH and the university system (USNH) have announced our intention to open with face-to-face instruction in the fall, with certain caveats. I am writing to provide some context for that announcement and share details of the planning efforts that will continue through the summer.
To be clear, this decision is not focused on the conditions we face today. It is an effort to predict whether we are on a path that would allow a return to on-campus life in some capacity. The one certainty is that the COVID-19 crisis we are in today will require flexibility and creativity as we navigate through the transition. We will need to prepare for options that keep our students, staff and faculty safe, such as providing for the ability to self-isolate and quarantine, while using testing and technology to minimize the impact of any potential infection. We will closely monitor the situation and be prepared to pivot as conditions change.
President Dean’s announcement last week mentioned numerous COVID focused task forces that have been established. Senior administration, faculty and staff have been working across 11 different teams and will continue to do so through the summer. These teams have been examining the conditions and protocols that would allow for a safe return to operations on our campuses. Their work, ideas and the data they collect will inform our decisions and we will keep you updated on their progress regularly over the summer. The teams will report their recommendations to the senior emergency management group for action. For example, our facilities team recommended performing hospital grade cleaning for our campuses twice daily and we are building this into normal operations until further notice.
I would like to update you on a few of the key items that are currently part of the planning for conditions in the fall.
Education – We will offer a blended on-campus learning environment. This does not mean courses will be offered in two formats or that an instructor has to prepare different versions. Rather, it means we will provide enhanced classroom technology, support and training to make the classroom experience accessible to students who may not be able to attend classes in-person for a portion of the semester due to self-quarantine, limited classroom capacity or other unforeseen circumstances. This flexibility will also be used for faculty who may be in high-risk groups, in coordination with the department chair and dean of the college.
The university will be making additional support and training available for faculty. For example, CEITL just announced its summer programming. Also, Academic Technology will develop a menu of sessions that blends specific pedagogical practices with tools to support them. Beyond FITSI and the current virtual sessions, AT will lead faculty focus group debriefs with each college and coordinate with CEITL and others to finalize additional sessions.
Student Services – Representatives from across campus life are working on a set of protocols designed to protect the health and safety of students and to minimize the virus footprint in the community. Guidance from the CDC and WHO as well as from state public health agencies will define our expectations of students on our campuses and in our local communities. We are also partnering with town landlords who have agreed to work with us to assist with physical distancing and limiting density as appropriate.
Research, Economic Engagement and Outreach – Our faculty and staff have been critical to the response to this COVID crisis and that is continuing. From standing up of Hamel Rec Center for hospital overflow, to 3D printing of PPE, and faculty expertise helping to stand up testing and improve building air flow, the talent of our faculty and research staff has been generous to our efforts. We are currently working on a six-phase plan for the resumption of research, professional development and training, extension and other outreach and engagement activities. Timing of transitions between phases is fluid and dependent upon the progression of the pandemic, as well as state and federal guidelines. We recognize the urgent need to address resumption of seasonal field research, and plan to issue guidelines within a week.
Testing - We are actively engaged with health care providers and the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services. Testing has been changing rapidly in recent weeks and we are working to leverage our own research facilities and faculty and staff expertise where appropriate to assist with testing on campus in partnership with state and hospital authorities. We are also planning for symptomatic testing in dining halls and common facilities (e.g. temperature checking) and planning for contact tracing.
While there are many other details under development, including a phased opening of university offices when state restrictions are lifted, we want to hear your ideas and experiences. The faculty senate has provided a survey link to gather questions, ideas, and concerns. I have reviewed the early feedback there and appreciate the helpful input. They have agreed to leave the survey open for faculty and staff to provide further input while a more comprehensive survey for faculty and staff is developed to be deployed in the next week or so.
As we come to the end of one of the strangest and most challenging semesters that I could have imagined in higher education, I want to finish by saying thank you. Your unprecedented pivot to help our students finish their semester was impressive. You did it professionally, with creativity and resilience. This crisis is not over and there will be new challenges yet unknown. I know that together we will persevere and design a high-quality curriculum that is the hallmark of UNH, while maintaining health, safety and our uncommon commitment to student success and excellence.