President Carter: UNK, NU intend to hold classes on campus this fall; Flexibility is key

To the Students, Faculty & Staff of the University of Nebraska System:

It is difficult to believe that only six weeks ago we were beginning a monumental shift in the way we teach, learn and work. The speed with which the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved – and the resilience with which you have adapted in order to advance our vital mission – is, in a word, humbling.

As we focus on successful completion of the spring semester and a transition to remote summer learning, we, like all colleges and universities, must also look ahead. The Chancellors and I, along with our leadership teams, have been engaged in robust analysis and planning for what the next academic year will look like across our campuses.

Walter "Ted" Carter
Walter “Ted” Carter

Today I want to let you know that we will have plans in place to safely resume in-person teaching and learning in fall 2020.

In making this decision, we are guided by safety, science and our mission, balancing the enormous value of the on-campus educational experience with our responsibility to protect the health of every member of our community.

We are working closely with our health professionals at UNMC, who have developed a dashboard that provides real-time analysis on the presence of COVID-19 and availability of medical resources across the state. The expertise of our medical center and public health officials will aide our planning for safely and purposefully welcoming students, faculty and staff back into our residence halls, classrooms and offices.

Of course, no one has all the answers, particularly during an evolving crisis like COVID-19. We will always be informed by the science, and we will act decisively if we need to change course to protect our community. We continue to plan for a variety of scenarios for the fall, including a shift to remote learning and working if conditions necessitate.

But, even in the absence of a vaccine, waiting indefinitely to provide clarity about our plans for the year ahead would only create further uncertainty for the students we serve and the colleagues whose work is the heartbeat of this institution. We are especially mindful of our duty to provide a “whole person” education to our students. We want to be as clear as we can about our commitment to returning to the on-campus, in-person learning that brings such richness to the collegiate experience.

Our planning is ongoing now, and chancellors will provide campus-specific details as they develop. While we don’t yet know exactly how this will look, the good news is that we have several months for our talented and committed campus communities to chart the path forward.

And, we have our values: A world-class education for every student, research that changes lives, and service to our state and the world.

We will also rely, in part, on a rigorous planning checklist being developed by our UNMC experts, covering evidence-based protocols on cleaning, protective facewear, hygiene, facility use and more. This checklist will serve not only as a resource for the University of Nebraska, but, we hope, to colleges and universities around the country as they build their own plans for re-opening.

Candidly, no one expects us to be back to “business as usual” come August. Our classes will almost certainly look different, our work arrangements will be different, and while I remain optimistic, we can’t predict how and when concerts, collegiate sports or various extracurricular activities will resume.

Our opportunity now, I believe, is to anticipate – and lead – the “next normal” for American higher education. For the University of Nebraska, that means that while our mission to transform lives here and around the world is more important than ever, we will need to find new and creative ways to deliver.

From what I have seen from all of you, I know we will not only survive these unprecedented challenges, but emerge stronger on the other side. Nebraskans are problem-solvers, not problem-gazers. As the people of this great state have always done, we will rely on common sense and science-based logic to plan, adapt and succeed.

Thank you for all that you do for our University system.

Ted Carter
President, University of Nebraska

University of Nebraska System Fall 2020 Planning: FAQ

Why are you announcing this now, versus waiting until the fall semester gets closer?
We’re announcing now that we plan to welcome students back to our four campuses this fall in order to provide as much clarity as possible to members of our community, and to give us time to plan appropriately. Campus teams are planning now for how we can safely resume in-person learning, providing excellent education to our students while also abiding by appropriate public health guidelines. We will always be guided by the science and will change course if necessary.

What steps might you take to ensure a safe learning environment?
Chancellors will share more details as they develop, but broadly, steps may include:

  • Only partially filling our residence halls to allow for proper distancing between students.
  • Increasing our use of online learning to reduce density in our classrooms, or spreading our classes across more days, times and venues.
  • Permitting or requiring remote work for some employees.
  • Making additional arrangements for those members of our University community who may be at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Providing regular testing for COVID-19 so that we can quickly identify and isolate anyone who may develop symptoms.

How do you know it will be safe to have students and faculty back on campus?
We are consulting daily with our experts from UNMC and other health officials. We will use sound science to inform our decisions. While we are planning for a safe return to the four campuses this fall, we will also plan for other scenarios, including a continuation of remote teaching and learning if conditions require it.

Should I assume I’ll be working remotely until the fall semester begins, or is it possible I will be able to return to on-site work before that?
If our health experts tell us it is safe to do so, we anticipate we will begin transitioning some employees back to on-site work before the semester begins. We will provide further details as they are available. For now, you should continue to work remotely until further notice. We expect supervisors to continue to provide as much flexibility to their teams as possible to ensure continuity of University operations.

I don’t think I’ll feel safe coming back to campus this fall. Will you force me to return?
We will not force any student or employee to return to campus this fall if they don’t feel safe. We especially recognize that certain members of our community may need to continue to work or learn remotely in order to stay safe. Your supervisor/department chair/dean will work with you to make arrangements that keep you safe, while continuing the important work of the University.

I’m a student. For safety reasons, I prefer to stay home and take my classes online this fall. Can you guarantee all my courses will be available online?
We can’t guarantee that every course will be available online, but as a University system, we are committed to helping you stay on the path to graduation. We recommend you work with your academic adviser to make a plan for the upcoming semester.

Depending on whether any Nebraska communities are COVID-19 “hot spots” when fall comes, could an individual NU campus elect to continue remote education, even if other campuses welcome students back to campus?
Yes. Some decisions are best made locally. An individual campus may need to act independently of other campuses if it is in the best interests of its students, faculty, staff and broader community. While our planning is focused on having students back on campus this fall, we are ready to adapt based on science and the advice of our health experts.

Will all campus facilities be open this fall?
Chancellors are engaged in planning work now and will share further details as they are available. Generally, our planning is focused on having students back on campus and facilities open by the time the fall semester begins.

You mentioned regular testing for COVID-19. Are you confident sufficient testing will be available?
Our state government partners have expressed confidence that Nebraska will have increased testing capacity by the fall. Keeping our community safe and healthy is our highest priority; if we need to change course, we will.

Does this mean you expect collegiate sports, musical performances and other large events to resume this fall?
Not necessarily. Nebraska may still have restrictions on large gatherings. We will rely on advice from our health experts to determine which events may be safe and which may not be. Some decisions, like collegiate sports, will be made by those governing bodies.