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Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

May 2020 Messages

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

Next week we will begin the phased, transitional re-opening of campus with the return of select groups of students, faculty and staff to classrooms, labs and offices. I am eager to see the campus come back to life slowly but surely, and I have confidence in the recommendations of our Future Planning Group (FPG) that we can do so safely through critical risk mitigation measures.

I write today to announce that wearing face coverings is one of these measures. After discussion with our health care experts, and in consultation with faculty, staff and student leaders, effective June 1 I am approving a face covering policy for the Columbia campus. This policy provides:

  • All individuals on campus are expected to wear a face covering whenever social distancing (six feet or more) is difficult or the risk of infection is high.
  • The university will provide a washable, reusable face covering for every student, faculty and staff member.
  • The university will require face coverings in the following areas: Student Health Services, Thomas Cooper Library, the Russell House and all classrooms.
  • Employees and students should carry a face covering of their choice on campus at all times so as to be prepared for other environments where a face covering is required (as designated by the university) or highly recommended.
  • University employees who cannot wear face coverings due to health conditions should contact their supervisors.
  • Students with health conditions that make wearing a face covering risky should register with the Student Disabilities Resource Center and accommodations will be made.

Put simply, we wear face coverings in order to protect others, and as Gamecocks we pledge to demonstrate concern for others. The research is clear: an infected person wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of COVID-19 to others. It could be easy to assume that you don’t need to wear a face covering if you feel fine, but we all know that asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 could unknowingly spread the virus to those around them.

Face coverings are just one approach we are taking to help make campus safer. We will implement social distancing protocols, install additional hand sanitizing stations, disinfect high-touch areas around campus and provide testing for all returning students, faculty and staff. Testing for returning employees and students will take place on June 1 and 2 at the Colonial Life Arena from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. The testing is free, and you must bring your health insurance card and your Carolina ID. More information about scheduling an appointment for a test will be announced prior to June 1. We will also continue to update you on additional risk mitigation practices and other measures that will inform how we study, work and live on campus together.

It is incumbent upon all of us to prioritize the safety of our community as we gradually return to campus over the next few months. The new normal is upon us, and I know we will work together for the greater good and enjoy being back together on this campus we all love.

Forever to thee,

Bob Caslen

Dear Class of 2020,

I’m writing to once again congratulate you on earning your degree from the University of South Carolina. Yours is a tremendous accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated. I am saddened to report, however, that we have decided that we will not be able to host in-person commencement ceremonies in August as we had tentatively announced. We will instead host a virtual commencement, with dates to follow soon.

I know this is disappointing news, but please know our decision was made after much deliberation and in consultation with public health experts and venue professionals. While we would have enjoyed nothing more than to welcome you and your families back for a ceremony in August, we don’t believe it will be safe for large in-person gatherings over the summer in the midst of the unprecedented global health crisis we are facing.

While our virtual commencement will be different than a traditional ceremony, our aim is to set a new standard of excellence for a virtual experience as we honor each of our graduates in the fashion you deserve. More details on the ceremony will be provided to you as they develop. We also look forward to having you back to campus to celebrate at a later date once it’s safe again to host large gatherings.

The coronavirus has changed many things about our campus, and indeed the nation and the world. One thing it can never change is the pride you have in earning your degree and joining the ranks of University of South Carolina alumni.

Forever to Thee,

Bob Caslen

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

I write to announce the Fall 2020 academic calendar as recommended on Friday, May 15 by the Future Planning Group (FPG) and with the full support of the Office of the Provost and our public health experts. Two major changes will stand out as you review the following schedule: first, there will be no Fall Break and second, we will conclude face-to-face instruction at Thanksgiving Break. The new schedule meets requirements for federal financial aid and for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Please note the schedule details for the Columbia campus:

Aug. 20: Classes begin

Sept. 7: Labor Day will be a Remote Class Day; classes will be held online and asynchronous for all classes

Oct. 15-16: Fall Break is cancelled; classes will be held on these days

Nov. 3: General Election Day will be a Remote Class Day; classes will be held online and asynchronous for all classes

Nov. 24: Face-to-face instruction will end

Nov. 25-29: Thanksgiving Break

Nov. 30: Remote Class Day

Dec. 1: Remote Class Day

Dec. 2-4: Reading Days

Dec. 7-14: Final Exam period

The recommendation to cancel Fall Break and essentially accelerate in-person instruction for the semester was developed with significant input from faculty, staff and student government leadership serving on the FPG. Two critical pieces of information informed these changes:

  • Canceling Fall Break — the public health risks associated with thousands of students and faculty returning to campus after Fall Break travels could be significant for the campus and Columbia communities and could jeopardize the continuation of the semester.
  • Remote learning following Thanksgiving Break — our best current modelling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December, which also will likely coincide with traditional flu season.

While fall semester will include face-to-face instruction, it should be noted that a portion of courses already scheduled to be delivered face-to-face and for which many students are already registered will need to be switched over the summer to online for the safety of students and their instructors. All undergraduate and graduate students will have the opportunity to be re-advised. All student learning and evaluation occurring after Thanksgiving, including exams and tests, will be done remotely.

I realize that students and faculty look forward to getting away and recharging in the middle of the semester, and I appreciate that many of you will not be pleased with the decision to cancel Fall Break. These changes are part of the new normalthat all of us must embrace as we return to campus for work and study, and they are necessary for us to successfully resume in-person instruction. Most importantly, they reflect our top priority: your health, safety and wellbeing.

Many questions about the fall schedule must still be answered, including December commencement, and we will update you as additional details are developed. We will also be prepared to alter our plans to accommodate changes in the public health environment on campus and in Columbia.

This virus continues to ask a great deal of us, and we must be ready to respond thoughtfully to any development or situation. I am extremely proud of the FPG and am grateful to every participant in this impressive group of leaders. These experts have given me a new level of confidence in our capacity to resume in-person classes on August 20 and to accommodate those students, faculty and staff who choose to work and study remotely.

Thank you for your continued support and for your willingness to work creatively with this new fall schedule. Working together as a team, we will make the Fall 2020 semester an excellent and safe experience for students, faculty and staff.

Forever to Thee,

Bob Caslen

Dear Faculty and Staff,

The University is actively preparing for the safe return of students and employees to campus. The Future Planning Group, comprised of eight subcommittees and one task force, have been analyzing multiple aspects of this undertaking and providing expert guidance to university leadership. Throughout this process we have been coordinating with state and local leaders and acting in accordance with guidance from public health experts.

Over the summer we will be carefully coordinating a gradual expansion of on-campus operations. This process will be implemented in phases and monitored to evaluate and refine the new methods of operation and interaction needed to maintain a healthy work environment and mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19.

The first phase of this process will be limited to essential employees and those who cannot readily continue remote work. In this first phase we will be deploying, evaluating and refining the procedures necessary to ensure the health and safety of our campus and our community; mitigate risks associated with COVID-19; sustain campus operations; and maintain research and academic excellence. Each subsequent phase will further expand on-campus operations and return additional employees to campus.

During this time employees should not report to campus unless they have been specifically notified to do so by their supervisor. Employees not specifically authorized to report to campus are to continue to work remotely.

Units will be using the results of the Return to Work Survey as they develop their plans. We know that some of our employees are at higher risk, are responsible for others at higher risk, are in positions not well suited to remote work, or have additional care taking responsibilities while schools, day care facilities, and summer camps are closed. Return to campus plans will take these factors into consideration along with operational requirements.

In addition to authorization from their supervisor, employees will need to be well to report to work on campus. Employees will engage in daily self-monitoring and certification of their good health. All employees are expected to practice social distancing in the work place. Face coverings will be highly recommended in settings where it is not possible to maintain a distance of six feet and required in designated areas of campus. More specific information is provided for you in the university’s Guidelines for Returning to the Workplace.

There is much work that will need to be done to successfully reopen the university. Over the coming weeks additional information will be provided to supervisors and to employees regarding what each of us must do to maintain a healthy workplace. We will also continue to provide you with opportunities to ask questions and receive answers. We are planning for another Town Hall in the coming days that will be focused on staff and how we will be supporting their gradual return to campus this summer.

Expanded on-campus operations will require us all to make changes to how we use our work spaces and how we interact with each other. There are actions that each of us will need to take to protect our own health and the health of others. Our success depends on collective efforts; each of us will need to do our part.

We ask that employees continue to coordinate with their departments and supervisors and monitor the university's coronavirus website for updates.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we take the steps necessary to safeguard the health of our employees and our community.

Sincerely,

Human Resources

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

After weeks of analysis and consideration, and in consultation with the Board of Trustees, I am pleased to report that the Columbia campus of the University of South Carolina will resume in-person instruction in mid-August.

One month ago, I called together a Future Planning Group (FPG) – an interdisciplinary gathering of public health, clinical medicine, academic and staff experts from across the university – to examine how to implement a safe return to campus in August. The FPG has gathered and analyzed data from every operational aspect of this institution and it works closely with public health experts on campus and throughout the state and nation to monitor COVID-19 trends and recommend appropriate measures to implement on-campus going forward. Every step of the way, our top priority is your health, safety and wellbeing. The in-depth, tireless work of the FPG has given me a new level of understanding and confidence that in-person instruction can safely begin this fall.

This decision has not been made lightly. It is informed by the science of our excellent epidemiologists and health care specialists in our planning group, as well as the CDC and the SC Department of Health and Environment Control. It is also made with the understanding of the cost of interrupting or postponing the education of tomorrow’s leaders for another semester or year. We have listened to the increasing number of students who have expressed their desire to be back on campus to experience the fullness of academic and student life. Many of these students, if faced with no option other than prolonged remote learning, will elect to postpone or discontinue their education. Finally, as has been the case with all of our actions up to this point, this decision is made with a genuine concern for our community and an absolute commitment to mitigating the future risks to Columbia and our surrounding communities.

As we prepare for August, we are embarking on a new normal that will demand from each of us a commitment to public health and safety. Our epidemiologists remind us that the risks associated with COVID-19 will remain a reality for the foreseeable future, simply because we have neither herd immunity nor a vaccine. With that reality, our purposeful efforts to reduce the spread of the virus through recommended public health protocols will continue as we also bolster our ability to respond to any potential resurgence of cases. Our excellent healthcare facilities and capacity on campus, and the top tier hospitals and available healthcare resources in the Columbia area will enable us to effectively address the needs of our campus community as we move forward. The success of the fall and the continued safety of our community depend, however, on the resolve of each student, staff and faculty member to comply daily with safety and health protocols.

We will begin by phasing in an increased presence on campus this summer of selected populations of students and faculty, even as summer courses remain online. This transitional, phased approach will allow us to test our mitigation measures, pilot our initiatives and further build our confidence and capacity to open our doors to the University community safely in August.

While we would like as many students, faculty and staff members as possible to return in person, doing so would not be mandatory, as we recognize that some would be uncomfortable coming back to campus in August. We respect each person’s decision to either return or delay their return, and we will expand our online course offerings to accommodate those who choose to remain away.

For those who are returning to campus, plans for academics, housing, dining and every aspect of student and campus life for the fall semester are being meticulously formed by the FPG and an increasingly broad group of campus leaders. Plans include the following:

  • We will have the capacity to test every Student, Faculty and Staff member for COVID-19 upon return the campus
  • We have the capacity to sustain a robust testing program throughout the entire semester
  • We are reviewing several comprehensive tracing and tracking apps for early and thorough identification of at-risk contacts
  • We have designated ample student housing for those who may require isolation and quarantine, and we are putting in place the support services to provide for their meals, education, and other needs
  • We will increase on campus single-occupancy rooms in on-campus residence halls
  • We will modify our dining practices in order to reduce close student contact in student dining facilities through “grab and go” meals
  • We will make accommodations for high-risk individuals and others who choose to continue online instruction with safeguards for protection against discrimination and stigma
  • We will follow clear public health protocols, including social distancing within classrooms, lecture halls, meeting rooms and sports venues, with strong encouragement of proper social distancing off campus
  • We will ensure that large class sections will either meet in smaller sections or in online formats and create alternative academic offerings to accommodate safe class gatherings
  • We will provide advising over the summer to help all students adjust their course schedules as needed
  • And finally, as stated, no student, faculty or staff member will be required to return

The new normal on campus won’t be easy but judging by how well all of you have risen to the occasion during the challenges of the last many weeks, I have great confidence in you. Make no mistake, it will take all of us, working together, to keep our campus as safe and productive as possible when we’re together again. The student leadership is working to develop its own campaign on social distancing norms both on and off campus and ways to hold themselves accountable. Our mayor and governor have been briefed on this plan and are both in agreement and support, and we will continue to work seamlessly with both the city and the state on their re-engagement plans. I know we will all commit ourselves to following the protocols necessary to protect the welfare of our fellow Gamecocks and the surrounding Columbia community.

Once again, I want to emphasize our excellent healthcare facilities and capacity on campus, and the top tier hospitals and available healthcare resources in the Columbia area that will enable us to address the needs of our campus community as we move forward.

We have a lot to look forward to and must remain focused, determined and agile. This plan, as thoughtful as it is, could change at any time due to COVID-19 developments. We will remain flexible to address how education is delivered if and when the public health environment changes within our community. We will keep you informed in the weeks ahead as we finalize plans for the fall semester. This is the time to recommit ourselves to our own well-being and that of others as we draw closer to joining together again at our beloved university.

Each day as I walk from the President’s House to my office and back, springtime on the Horseshoe reminds me that ours is a campus that invites and inspires us to learn and work together. Our University of South Carolina has for nearly 220 years beckoned generations to its hallowed grounds and has survived the Great Depression, two world wars, previous pandemics and countless natural disasters. We are meant to be together and we will gather again, safely.

This evening we will host a virtual town hall event at 6 p.m. to answer as many of your questions as possible. You can join the event by clicking here or by visiting our COVID-19 webpage.

Forever to Thee,

Bob

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Gov. Henry McMaster announced Friday, May 1 that the statewide “Work-or-Home” order was lifted, and voluntary status would resume on Monday, May 4. We know that many employees have questions about what this means for the university. The university's highest priority is the health and safety of our employees. Our return must be carefully coordinated with that goal in mind.

The university is working on a plan for the safe return of employees, allowing flexibility for those with family responsibilities, health vulnerabilities and other concerns. As part of this plan, all Columbia and Palmetto College campus employees received a survey that will inform this process. The primary goal of this survey is to gather critical information about how to best support our employees as we gradually increase on-campus operations. Employees are not required to disclose any specific personal health information.

While this plan is being developed and executed, we will continue the strategy of remote work assignments for personnel whose presence is not required on campus.

The Future Planning Group is working diligently to evaluate conditions and prepare policy recommendations concerning the safe return of students and employees to campus while mitigating any ongoing risks. Employee work status updates will also continue to be posted to the “Employee Policies and Procedures” section of the university's coronavirus website.

We ask that employees continue to coordinate with their departments and supervisors and monitor the university's coronavirus website for updates.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to safeguard the health of our employees and our community.

Sincerely,

Division of Human Resources

Dear Staff and Faculty Members,

In our virtual Town Hall on April 28, I outlined some of the financial challenges our University is likely to face due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you were able to tune in, thank you again for your attention and questions. Our senior leadership team is working on a detailed cost-savings plan in the context of the FY 2021 budget. I would like to solicit your help to identify new and innovative cost saving opportunities that central planning efforts might overlook. I firmly believe there are ideas, ‘undiscovered’, that exist at the ‘forward edge’ of our organization and can provide us with opportunities to save funding and generate increased revenue.

To this end, I have asked the leadership of our emerging Staff Senate, Leena Holt and Angela Wright, and of our Faculty Senate, Mark Cooper, to work together on a Joint Staff and Faculty Senate Cost-Savings Opportunity Task Force. I encourage you to share your suggestions with this Task Force by means of the web form at: go.sc.edu/futureplanning.

Please take a moment to look at your work and consider: What cost-savings opportunities might there be for the University? I want you to think outside of the box and beyond our traditional viewpoints. What are some steps that we can implement now that might generate sizeable cost savings and have a positive impact on our financial future? In addition, what ideas do you have that could generate additional revenue for our team?

Last, please look at this as not only an exercise in response to the pandemic, but as a real opportunity to set us up for the greatest level of success as we emerge from the crisis. What ideas are out there that will help propel or accelerate our efforts into the future? How do we build a better, stronger and more efficient University?

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to our University Community. I look forward to seeing the thoughts and recommendations of this Task Force.

We are all in this together.

Sincerely,

Bob Caslen


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