To the Students, Faculty and Staff of the University of Nebraska System:
It is difficult to believe that only six weeks ago we were beginning a monumental shift in the way we teach, learn and work. The speed with which the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved – and the resilience with which you have adapted in order to advance our vital mission – is, in a word, humbling.
As we focus on successful completion of the spring semester and a transition to remote summer learning, we, like all colleges and universities, must also look ahead. The Chancellors and I, along with our leadership teams, have been engaged in robust analysis and planning for what the next academic year will look like across our campuses.
Today I want to let you know that we will have plans in place to safely resume in-person teaching and learning in fall 2020.
In making this decision, we are guided by safety, science and our mission, balancing the enormous value of the on-campus educational experience with our responsibility to protect the health of every member of our community.
We are working closely with our health professionals at UNMC, who have developed a dashboard that provides real-time analysis on the presence of COVID-19 and availability of medical resources across the state. The expertise of our medical center and public health officials will aide our planning for safely and purposefully welcoming students, faculty and staff back into our residence halls, classrooms and offices.
Of course, no one has all the answers, particularly during an evolving crisis like COVID-19. We will always be informed by the science, and we will act decisively if we need to change course to protect our community. We continue to plan for a variety of scenarios for the fall, including a shift to remote learning and working if conditions necessitate.
But, even in the absence of a vaccine, waiting indefinitely to provide clarity about our plans for the year ahead would only create further uncertainty for the students we serve and the colleagues whose work is the heartbeat of this institution. We are especially mindful of our duty to provide a “whole person” education to our students. We want to be as clear as we can about our commitment to returning to the on-campus, in-person learning that brings such richness to the collegiate experience.
Our planning is ongoing now, and chancellors will provide campus-specific details as they develop. While we don’t yet know exactly how this will look, the good news is that we have several months for our talented and committed campus communities to chart the path forward.
And, we have our values: A world-class education for every student, research that changes lives, and service to our state and the world.
We will also rely, in part, on a rigorous planning checklist being developed by our UNMC experts, covering evidence-based protocols on cleaning, protective facewear, hygiene, facility use and more. This checklist will serve not only as a resource for the University of Nebraska, but, we hope, to colleges and universities around the country as they build their own plans for re-opening.
Candidly, no one expects us to be back to “business as usual” come August. Our classes will almost certainly look different, our work arrangements will be different, and while I remain optimistic, we can’t predict how and when concerts, collegiate sports or various extracurricular activities will resume.
Our opportunity now, I believe, is to anticipate – and lead – the “next normal” for American higher education. For the University of Nebraska, that means that while our mission to transform lives here and around the world is more important than ever, we will need to find new and creative ways to deliver.
From what I have seen from all of you, I know we will not only survive these unprecedented challenges, but emerge stronger on the other side. Nebraskans are problem-solvers, not problem-gazers. As the people of this great state have always done, we will rely on common sense and science-based logic to plan, adapt and succeed.
Thank you for all that you do for our University system.
President, University of Nebraska System
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