Chancellor's Message: Returning to Campus
As we near the end of this week of remote education and operations, I want to thank you all for helping keep our campus safe, and for your flexibility through this quick pivot. I am incredibly grateful for your efforts in stabilizing our campus infection rate.
After extensive discussion with the COVID-19 Emergency Management Team, which consists of representatives from each academic college, and all governing and advisory bodies of the institution, we have decided to return, as planned, to in-person learning and operations Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. This decision was made based on information shared by all participants including active cases on campus, trend data for our region and campus, availability of staffing to continue operations of our critical departments on campus, and preference of participants to return to on-campus work and instruction.
As I’ve shared in previous communications, your health and safety are our top priorities. As we make this move back to in-person operations, we are implementing additional precautions which include an update to our face-covering policy. Masks will now be required to be worn at all times and in all indoor spaces, with exceptions made only for students in their dorm rooms or apartments and for employees only when alone in their offices. Face masks must cover your mouth and nose and fit snugly to your face.
The CDC recommends for people to utilize the best possible masks to protect against the Omicron variant. At this time, UAFS has disposable, medical procedure masks available for all students, employees, and guests. As we receive additional quantities of PPE we will continue distributing it in main entry areas of campus facilities so all students, faculty, and staff who need masks, hand sanitizer, soap, or cleaners have free and easy access to them.
I will summarize the other important take-aways from our meeting:
Flexibility: Due to the dynamic nature of the situation, some flexibility will be required to support faculty, staff, and students during isolation or quarantine, or when other needs arise (i.e. child care due to closures of schools, care for compromised family members, etc.). We recognize that there will be instances when a student or employee may need to make special requests regarding work options and schedules. Employees should make requests to their immediate supervisors, with their dean or vice chancellor carbon copied. Students should make requests to the Dean of Students who will help coordinate their needs with the necessary offices on campus.
Consistency: Students and faculty in attendance at our meeting noted that in the event that online learning is required—for the remainder of the week or in the future to provide added flexibility--it is most helpful for faculty to teach at times when classes are normally scheduled. The recommended practice was to teach online through Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate and send login information to students well in advance so they can participate in a synchronous format.
Communication: As we assess needs across campus, some offices may be open fewer hours or may operate on an alternating schedule, and some classes may offer hybrid options due to the illness of either students or faculty. Academic and administrative department leaders and faculty will attempt to notify employees and students with as much notice as possible if changes need to be made to typical operations. I ask for your patience and grace as we all navigate this pandemic together and try to provide both consistency and flexibility as needed. University-wide messages typically will come from me, but changes to departmental operations will be communicated through department websites, social media accounts, campus announcements, and posted signage in the relevant facilities. Faculty members will communicate as early as possible with students using official campus email and posts in Blackboard (where and when appropriate).
Events: UAFS is proud to host many outstanding events that promote education and socialization. For the next six weeks, we ask event hosts/planners to consider options for reducing contact by hosting online events or reducing the number of participants to 50% of the capacity of the event space. Ashley Goodson, Director of the Office of University Event Planning, will be happy to suggest the safest options for hosting on campus or virtual events. Also, please remind guests about the requirement to wear masks indoors at all events (see above).
I encourage you to visit our COVID-19 Dashboard for updates and information regarding our weekly active case counts.
As always, I am incredibly humbled to be leading UA-Fort Smith at this critical time in the history of our university, and I am thankful to each of you for choosing to work and learn at this outstanding place.