Monday, May 4, 2020 | 9:45 a.m.
Dear Red Wolves:
I wanted to let you know about our plans for Fall 2020. As a reminder, after a quick transition to all-online teaching in mid-semester, we recently announced that most of our summer classes will also be taught online. We have allowed certain labs and practicums to be taught face-to-face in Summer II, provided that those classes create plans that maximize physical distancing and other hygiene requirements. In all of these decisions, we have focused on ensuring that the health and safety of our faculty, staff, and students is our highest priority, while also seeking to continue delivering the highest quality learning and working environment possible. We have relied heavily on guidance from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Governor Asa Hutchinson’s Office, local health authorities, and input from our campus community.
Our decision about the Fall 2020 semester will maintain that very same perspective. While there are a myriad of things to consider when planning our recovery efforts, the chief priorities will be, first, the health and safety of our campus community and, second, the continuity of our mission to educate leaders, enhance intellectual growth, and enrich lives. We will take into account guidance from relevant authorities and use a transparent and collaborative process to determine our actions.
To that end, I fully expect that we will conduct the Fall 2020 semester on campus. It will not be “business as usual,” because we all understand that adjustments will have to be made. These changes will be based on the best practices for health and safety. We will also be prepared to make adjustments and to have contingency plans in place should they be needed. None of us knows exactly what the fall will look like, but we cannot wait to start making plans.
Our transition to all-online in the spring had to be done incredibly fast, so we needed to rely on a small group of leaders who did their best to make decisions that best allowed us to continue our critical mission in an emergency situation. I will forever be grateful for Len Frey, Lori Winn, Alan Utter, Bill Smith, and Jon Carvell who served their university so nobly and selflessly during those difficult early days.
But we have more time to plan for the fall semester. Because I believe that a more inclusive approach is the best way to plan for the fall, I have created seven COVID-19 continuity task forces. The Chancellor’s Cabinet will serve as the ad hoc A-State Continuity Advisory Committee (ACAC). Cabinet members will develop and lead their task forces, which will be charged with making recommendations to the ACAC, which will in turn, make recommendations to me. The continuity task forces are as follows:
- Continuity of Teaching, Learning, and Discovery: Dr. Alan Utter
- Business and Employee Wellness Continuity: Dr. Len Frey
- Student Wellness and Residence Life Continuity: Dr. Martha Spack
- Alternative Modes of Instruction Expansion: Dr. Thilla Sivakumaran
- Community Engagement Continuity: Dr. Maurice Gipson & Dr. Erika Chudy
- Continuity of Enrollment Management: Dr. Bryan Terry
- Continuity of Intercollegiate Athletics: Terry Mohajir
We have much to plan and determine in the weeks ahead. I believe this process is not about creating short-term solutions. As we learned this past spring, we are capable of making the transition from face-to-face instruction to online instruction very quickly. Actually, I would say REMARKABLY quickly! The fact that we are the largest provider of online education in the state meant that we had some of the needed infrastructure in place to make the transition about as smoothly as any research university in the country. We should all take pride in what you all accomplished.
But we also learned that we were not as prepared as we needed to be. We only succeeded because our faculty and staff showed tremendous tenacity and fortitude to get us to the finish line. History will never know the countless hours our team put in to make the transition to all-online as smooth as possible. We also benefitted from an empathetic student body, who provided wise insight about grading, scholarship, and refund policies, while also doing the best they could to learn in a unique environment. It would be irresponsible to expect us to be able to replicate that same kind of sudden shift in the middle of the fall semester. We cannot waste the valuable time that we have now to prepare for every contingency.
Therefore, I will ask that our continuity task forces complete their work no later than July 1. We will certainly make many decisions before then, but time is of the essence. I anticipate that these plans will include ideas like using non-traditional spaces to teach classes, variations on how to host student life events, and flexibility in how our critical missions will be accomplished. We will also need to incorporate the State of Arkansas's plans for screening, testing, and contact tracing for our students and employees. We certainly need policies on when/where to use masks and quarantine plans for infected or exposed individuals. We definitely need a plan should the officials require that we close down campus or K-12 again.
As we prepared for our continuity planning, I have often been reminded of May 20, 2013. I was helping my sister-in-law move to Oklahoma. My daughter and I were unloading everything Brenda owned into a storage unit near our home in Moore when a terrible tornado tore through town. We barely escaped, but when we returned, we discovered a totaled U-Haul truck and all of her damaged stuff scattered in the parking spot in front of her destroyed unit. With a heavy heart, Kristen and I started to pick things up, making a pile of recoverables and non-recoverables. Before long, a reporter happened along and asked, “How do you recover from something like this?” I replied, “I pick something up, decide if it is salvageable, put it in a stack, and then repeat as necessary, until we pick it all up.” We did that for three days, and I remember with great fondness all the people who volunteered to help us recover. I have thought about that day many times these past few weeks.
Friends, as we prepare for Fall 2020, we cannot solve every problem or answer every question at once. But together, one step at a time, I know that we will arrive at solutions that keep us all safe while maintaining our critical missions. We will exhibit the same patience, fortitude, and empathy to create new innovations that will allow us to complete the fall semester.
Red Wolves, I am grateful for you and I am so proud of your hard work this semester (and in the days to come). I cannot wait to welcome you all back to campus in the fall!