August 17, 2020
For those of you who are new to our campus, let me say welcome to the University of Houston. And to those who are returning, I'm so pleased to say welcome back.
It is understandable that many of you are approaching the fall with anticipation and concern given the pandemic we continue to navigate. I can imagine this is especially true for our freshman class and your families.
At a personal level, I share your feelings. Yet, the immense planning and preparation that has continued throughout the summer, and our approach of flexibility and compassion, give me great confidence. While there is no way to eliminate all risk, we have created a learning, working and living environment that is as safe as possible, will allow us to minimize transmission of COVID-19 and, if necessary, quickly adapt our instruction should circumstances change.Adaptability has become a hallmark of our University. Our academic, research and personal goals are non-negotiable. However, the path we take to reach them often changes. Many of these changes you will continue to experience now, and when classes begin next Monday, August 24th.
- Students living in our residence halls are moving in this week on a controlled, appointment basis to ensure safe social distancing for our students and their families. Beyond move-in, visitors are restricted to common areas and social distancing will be required. Dining halls have installed Plexiglas barriers and instituted new protocols to eliminate unnecessary contact and accommodate distancing.
- Classrooms have been outfitted with new equipment to accommodate synchronous online learning during face-to-face classes and the use of face coverings and social distancing will be enforced in seating arrangements. Enhanced sanitization steps, including electrostatic fogging, have been instituted in buildings throughout campus each day.
- Our campus will not be overcrowded. With our HyFlex course delivery, the number of students taking face-to-face classes at peak hours is only 15 percent of normal or less. Self-health screenings are required each day for everyone before coming to campus, and anyone with symptoms must stay home.
- University of Houston has contracted with UT Health to provide COVID-19 testing for students who become symptomatic or have been identified as exposed. We are prioritizing testing for students living on campus and for students who are taking classes face-to-face. Results should be returned within 24 hours and University contact tracing teams will immediately notify anyone known to have been potentially exposed to someone who was on campus during the 14-day incubation period.
- The information on total positive cases of UH community members and the number of cases on campus is available on our COVID-19 website. On this website you will also find a summary of some of the significant policy decisions we have made for the fall and specific guidance for students, faculty, staff and visitors and answers to frequently asked questions. This website will be updated continually so please plan to refer back to it as time goes by.
- Never has it been more vividly demonstrated how connected we all are. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is a shared responsibility. Policies, protocols and resources are only effective if all of us in our Cougar community commit to taking proper precautions not only on campus, but when you’re away. I ask you to be an active participant in our Coog Strong, Mask On campaign and do your part to stop the spread.
While the pandemic has certainly dominated our planning, there are many other priorities that are important to our community, our diverse culture, and to fostering a safe and productive campus environment.
- We have implemented new requirements from the U.S. Department of Education related to sexual misconduct investigations which ensure all parties involved equal rights and due process. We are committed to maintaining and strengthening an educational and working environment where students and employees are free from sex discrimination. Our implementation of this guidance went through an extensive shared review process and all Title IX employees across the UH System have received updated training.
- Several weeks ago, members of administration held meetings with student leaders to discuss their views and concerns on race and social justice. As a result of these meetings five action topics emerged – Sexual Assault and Misconduct, University Police Department, Diversity and Inclusion, Freedom of Expression, and Security at Student Events. In order to appropriately discuss these issues and create actions for improvement, five workgroups have been created and will make recommendations to the University Race Relations and Social Justice Committee, a university-wide group of faculty, staff, students and alumni to bring meaningful change.
- Planning is underway for a virtual commencement in December to recognize our graduating classes from Spring, Summer and Fall 2020. I know many of our seniors, graduate students and their families were terribly disappointed when commencement was cancelled in May. While it is possible conditions may be more conducive to an in-person gathering, committing to a virtual event will give everyone predictability and eliminate the need for travel and the possibility of last-minute cancellations.
Our University continues to operate in an extremely fluid environment. We will continue to communicate as any changes occur and I urge you to watch for updates on the COVID-19 website or for general inquires contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We understand this semester will have its unique challenges and we are committed to providing you the academic and emotional support you need to stay on course. Thank you for choosing to be a part of the UH community. And Go Coogs!
With warm regards,