August 3, 2020
Dear UH Faculty and Staff,
I hope you and your families are safe and healthy. In three weeks, we will begin perhaps the most unusual and challenging fall semester. Thank you for your patience and dedication as we plan to fulfill our mission of providing learning opportunities to our students in as safe an environment as possible.
It has been more than four months since we entered these trying times and I will be the first one to admit that it feels overwhelming and exhausting at times. We are forced to make major decisions in a constantly shifting environment with less than full information. I can only imagine the challenges that you are going through in your own professional and personal lives. What keeps me going is my steadfast belief that together we will find solutions and come out of it stronger and better.
I know that you are anxious about fall reopening and this is understandable. I want to assure you that A) your safety is paramount, and B) that we will continue to provide maximum flexibility to accommodate your personal concerns and obligations.
We understand that these are unusually anxious times and that you have personal obligations including child care or health care at home that must be balanced. Your health—physical and mental—is important to the well-functioning of the university. If you can effectively perform your duties remotely, I ask that you continue to do so.
Our division vice presidents will determine what on-campus staffing is required to provide the necessary support and services for their respective units and the most effective way to meet those needs. Your supervisor will work with you to offer flexibility and options so you can balance your personal and professional lives but continue to function fully. It is important that students and faculty be fully supported.
Employees and supervisors can discuss a variety of possible options and alternatives outlined in guidelines prepared by Human Resources, including a recently expanded version of the Family Medical Leave (FMLA) policy.
Here is what you can expect upon your return:
- We will implement our Phase 3 re-entry on Monday, August 10th to prepare for the fall semester. We will not be putting any limit on how many or what percentage of staff should be on campus when we open the campus. Instead we will let people’s work decide their presence on campus.
- Students will move into residence halls starting August 17th. I would like to give a special shout out to our staff in Student Housing and Residential Life for their methodical attention to details as we continued to house nearly 1,000 students throughout the summer. Some of our students had nowhere to go and they were given a safe place on campus.
- We also understand that the public health situation can change rapidly. As always, faculty members have the flexibility to manage their class as long as students are learning.
- Phase 4, classroom instruction, will resume on August 24th as per the academic calendar. It is our goal to provide all services to students in person and online. We will be using various formats to offer instruction: face-to-face, Hyflex, synchronous online and asynchronous online.
Campus Health and Safety:
Our COVID-19 Coordinator and COVID-19 Coordination Committee are working tirelessly in collecting all the relevant information and then advising us on actions that are essential in keeping us safe. I want to assure you, and your families, that we have taken significant precautions, with guidance from the medical community, to create a campus environment that greatly reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19.
- Face coverings are required on campus unless an exception has been granted. We have established physical distancing reminders, enhanced cleaning and sanitization fixtures and procedures, and placed hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in all offices and classrooms.
- Face shields and Plexiglas barriers are being provided upon request.
- Classrooms, student residences, dining halls and other facilities have been reconfigured.
- We’ve eliminated unnecessary points of contact in dining services and increased availability of food delivery.
- We are recruiting an occupational nurse solely devoted to addressing COVID-19 workplace concerns.
- Testing for benefits eligible faculty and staff is available through your primary care physician and covered 100% by our health insurance.
- On the advice of medical experts, we will regularly update positive cases of COVID-19 among members of our UH community. Since March 2020, we have documented 162 such cases; however most of them have not been on campus. As we near fall opening, we will start posting these numbers on the COVID-19 website.
- UH contact tracers have and will continue to promptly notify anyone in our campus community identified, per CDC guidelines, as being a close contact to any individual on our campus known to have tested positive.
Reducing the spread is a shared responsibility. Today we are launching a social responsibility campaign, Coog Strong, Mask On, with the purpose of uniting us on a shared mission to protect each other and prevent the pandemic from disrupting our individual goals and our University’s academic and research pursuits. I expect all of our faculty, staff and students to comply with policies and take appropriate steps to protect yourself and those around you.
Triggers for Change in Plans:
Many of you must wonder what will trigger a change in our plans leading up to closing the campus or going fully online. Our team continues to monitor several elements which will impact a change in our plans. The most important among them are: a state-wide closure or lock-down, a virus outbreak on campus, disruption of operations on campus, or a local condition that puts our community at risk. We continue to work with state authorities, local medical experts and other university leaders to determine the best course of action for us. Our goal is to provide a safe and effective learning environment for our students and we will not compromise on that.
Once again, I thank you for your patience and hard work. Our faculty and staff are doing many wonderful things that only make me humbler to be a part of the UH family. In case you missed reading about them, here are a few:
- College of Medicine started with its inaugural class of 30 students. A donor transformed their lives by paying tuition for them and one day they will transform others’ lives by learning the art of medicine.
- Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity, has collaborated with others, including Luo Yu of the UH Department of Physics and TcSUH and Dr. Faisal Cheema at the UH College of Medicine, to design a “catch and kill” air filter that can trap the virus responsible for COVID-19, killing it instantly.
- Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design’s Aaron McEuen, instructional lab manager, led the effort to manufacture face shields for frontline health care workers at Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals, both part of Harris Health System.
- University of Houston Clinical Psychology is serving our Houston community restaurant workers by offering free mental health care to Texas-based food and beverage employees and their children.
Finally, let’s not forget to thank all the essential dedicated staff who have been coming to campus since March allowing the university to remain open and continue campus operations. They truly are Coog Strong!
President, University of Houston