Letter to faculty - Considerations for fall reopening

April 28, 2020

Dear Faculty Colleagues:

On March 6, we dispersed for spring break expecting to return, as we usually do, a week hence. So much has changed since then, and so dramatically. On March 11, we announced that we would transition to online instruction through at least April 13, and by March 18 it became clear that we would not be able to resume in-person instruction this semester. The state of Indiana issued a stay-at-home order on March 23, and most of us have been working from home since then.

We write to describe our initial thinking about reopening spaces on campus and for the 2020-21 academic year. Given the great uncertainty across so many factors, we are not able to offer definite plans at this time. However, we do want to share our approach to developing those plans.

In crafting a response to the disruption wrought by the current crisis, we will be guided by our central University goals, found here, and some of the principles they imply. Particularly important in current circumstances is the principle, found under the fourth goal of Stewardship, that we act “to protect the safety of students, faculty and staff,” as well as their families and loved ones. Our second goal, to “offer an unsurpassed undergraduate education that nurtures the formation of mind, body and spirit,” is of course best achieved through personalized classroom instruction, residential life, extracurricular and service activities and the sense of community on campus. Within the bounds of health considerations, we will do all we can to maximize on-campus classes and life so central to a Notre Dame education. Equally important is our third goal, to “advance human understanding through scholarship, research, and post-baccalaureate programs that seek to heal, unify and enlighten.” Such work requires the reopening of our labs and libraries and supporting our students in graduate and professional programs. In the economic crisis created by COVID-19, we must of course strive to achieve “superb stewardship of [our] … financial resources,” as stated in our fourth goal, and preserve the fiscal health of the University. Finally, in all we do, we must “ensure that our Catholic character informs all our endeavors,” as our first goal states.

These goals and principles will guide our decisions, and those decisions will of course be informed by the best scientific and medical data and advice.

Given the complexity of the challenges we face, we have created several groups to plan for the reopening of campus. The first is the Academic Year Continuity Working Group. It is considering alternative approaches for instruction during the 2020-21 academic year. Given the uncertainty about future conditions, the Working Group members are developing plans that maximize flexibility, considering factors such as the start date of the academic year, modes of delivery of instruction, and options for making changes during the course of the year as circumstances change.

Within the Academic Year Continuity Group will be a Research Task Force, organized by Bob Bernhard, our Vice President for Research. It will develop plans for reopening labs, libraries and studios that support research, scholarship and creative expression.

Medical/Health/Operations Working Group is assessing from a medical and health perspective the steps necessary to restart research, reopen campus, and resume classes. This group is considering the possibility of extensive diagnostic and immunity testing, contact tracing, quarantining students as necessary, and other steps to support health and well-being. This group will rely on experts—internal and external—in medicine, public health and epidemiology.

While each working group has a specific, distinct mandate, their work is obviously inter-connected, and at the appropriate time, we will ask them to integrate their work into a set of recommendations for reopening campus. In addition to these planning groups, we are forming a Faculty Advisory Committee to assist us. The Faculty Advisory Committee will be a valuable sounding board as we evaluate the plans developed by the working groups, offering comments and reflections. Ultimately, the plans and recommendations will go to Fr. Jenkins.

As we all know, our understanding of the virus and its transmission evolves almost daily, and predictions are uncertain. We can take encouragement from the devotion and incredible work being done by health care providers and scientific researchers worldwide—including here on Notre Dame’s campus. Nevertheless, at present, we cannot be sure when and if drugs will be developed to treat those with the virus, when tests for the virus and antibodies will be widely available, or when an effective vaccine will be found. Because of these and other uncertainties, we will develop plans for a number of scenarios for the reopening of classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and event spaces appropriately, but are delaying our decisions about the fall semester as long as is reasonable. We will, however, provide an update to you about the fall semester by mid-June.

We are grateful to you for the patience, creativity, and resilience you have shown in responding to this crisis, and for your continued commitment to our University, the education of our students and your important research. Please know of our best wishes for a successful end to the semester, and that you and your loved ones continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.

Yours in Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

Dr. Thomas G. Burish

Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda