President's Update - University of Houston
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President's Update

December 21, 2020

Dear Faculty and Staff,

As we approach the close of a very challenging year, I sincerely hope that the vaccines and other advances in treatment will soon get us on a path to a stable recovery. Even under the best of scenarios, we anticipate the lingering effects of the pandemic will last until 2023. During this time, we will do our best to keep everyone safe and mitigate an adverse impact on our ability to fulfill our mission or to advance toward our vision.

On a positive note, we graduated 11,071 students last week in the University’s first-ever virtual commencement.  Carl Lewis, the nine-time Olympic gold medalist, a UH alumnus and now an assistant coach for the UH Track and Field team, delivered an inspiring commencement address heard by our graduates and their families across the globe. Let me take this opportunity to once again thank you for your hard work. Without it, this unique celebration would not have been possible for our graduates.

Here are some additional updates for you.

Plan for Spring Semester – As you recall, we offered our students and faculty flexibility in selecting their mode of instruction for the spring semester and the majority of them have now made their choices.  Even though half of the students and one-third of the faculty had initially indicated their willingness to be in face-to-face setting, the registration pattern now shows that most of them are opting for the online format.  Given the spike in the COVID infection numbers in the nation and the region, this shift is understandable. Within this context, I am asking that we implement “Plan B” for the spring semester, which means remaining mostly remote in our instruction and operations, similar to the fall semester.

Under this plan, I ask that if you can continue to effectively perform your duties remotely, please do so (with supervisor approval).   If you come to campus to support students and/or faculty who engage in face-to-face instruction and research, please do so following University’s safety protocols and CDC guidelines.
The spring calendar will remain the same, including Spring Break (March 15-20).

Free COVID-19 Testing – We are finalizing a deal with the well-known testing company Curative to provide a free, walk-up kiosk on campus where faculty, students, and staff can be tested with or without symptoms.  The service is likely to start during the week of Jan. 19, 2021. Details will be available on our COVID-19 website.

UH Travel Guidance  UH travel guidance has been updated and all spring and summer 2021 Learning Abroad programs have been cancelled. You are strongly encouraged to follow CDC holiday travel recommendations, which remind us that “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.” If you do travel, we ask that you get tested after your trip or reduce non-essential activities for 10 days after travel before returning to campus for the spring semester.

Daring to Dream Strategic Plan – The Daring to Dream Strategic Plan framework was approved by the Board of Regents in its December meeting. The next phase is to formulate strategies to achieve the goals. Provost Paula Myrick Short and Dean Dennis Reynolds, who have very ably co-chaired the first phase of the process, are now forming implementation committees corresponding to each of the goals.  The feedback that we have received from you will be provided to implementation committees.

The New Normal Task Force that I had charged in April has prepared short “white papers” on different scenarios pertaining to the new normal for higher education.  These insightful papers are available for your consideration and feedback on their website. I thank Co-chairs Professors Ramanan Krishnamoorti and Mark Clarke and the members of the committee for their time and expertise.  These papers will inform the implementation committees in their work.

Enrollment Up – Finally, the initial enrollment numbers for spring are looking strong, but a good deal can change between now and the first day of classes Jan. 19, 2021.  I urge you to continue showing flexibility and compassion toward our students who are struggling with unprecedented anxiety and mental stress along with financial difficulties caused by the continuing pandemic.

I wish you and yours a very happy and safe holiday period.  This year’s festive season will be more cautious, but I certainly hope that we can still cheer for all the blessings in our lives and look forward to a healthier and happier 2021!

With warm regards,

Renu Khator