May 19, 2020
Dear students, faculty and staff,
With the Spring 2020 semester now behind us, we look to the summer and the planning necessary for the Fall 2020 semester. In that light, I’m writing to share an update on planning efforts underway to guide the university as we continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the beginning of this public health emergency, our highest priority has been and continues to be safeguarding the health, safety and well-being of the university community. It is the standard that guided our decision to take all summer courses and activities to online or remote formats. It was the driving factor in determining how best to manage residential housing checkouts. And it is under this umbrella that we approach planning for Fall 2020. As I’ve noted previously, we look forward to welcoming students back to campus for in-person instruction for the Fall 2020 semester on the Oxford and regional campuses. Our return to campus will include a series of protocols and parameters designed to protect the health of our community.
An incredible amount of planning is underway by faculty, staff and administrators who are working on every aspect of preparation for Fall 2020 for our campus. We are represented on the Institutions of Higher Learning’s Safe Start Task Force for the university system by Larry Sparks, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, and Charlotte Pegues, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. That group will develop broad system-level parameters to guide institutional planning for the Fall 2020 semester so that students and universities can implement the necessary safety protocols.
Our provost, Noel Wilkin, leads the university’s Future Planning Task Force, a group of nearly 50 administrators, faculty and staff who have led various aspects of our university-wide response since March. The task force established five subcommittees with wide representation from across the campus to develop an operational framework for the Fall 2020 semester, monitor the many variables that evolve daily, and develop our best recommendations — with the information and data we have available — in the following areas:
Academic Planning and Experiences – Chair: Noel Wilkin, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Athletics – Chair: Shannon Singletary, Senior Associate Athletic Director of Sports Medicine
Financial Planning/Implications – Chair: Larry Sparks, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance
Parameters and Protocols – Chair: Alex Langhart, Director of University Health Services
Student Services and Support – Chair: Charlotte Pegues, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
These subcommittees will give close consideration to the guidance outlined by federal, state and local government agencies that are advising us on how to resume operations with proper safeguards. They also are communicating with the Mississippi State Department of Health and local health officials. These subcommittees are working diligently to outline the parameters and protocols that may be necessary this fall, considering public health recommendations as well as individual situations and responsibilities. The protocols will determine what classes and other campus activities look like in the fall. All recommendations from these subcommittees hinge on how the public health emergency unfolds over the coming weeks. University leadership will announce the operational framework that we will use for Fall 2020 no later than June 30.
I know you are keenly interested in when faculty and staff will return to work on campus. We will do so in a phased approach, based on the nature of the work activities in each unit. We are in the midst of discussions on how best to structure that, and we expect to share an update very soon.
In closing, I want to reiterate the university’s commitment to our core mission of providing an extraordinary educational experience for our students. We recognize that ongoing uncertainties create significant challenges for students, faculty, staff and families. We appreciate your continued understanding and patience as we manage our response to this pandemic in the best way possible for our university community. We will continue to communicate with you on the progress of this work and post updates on the university’s COVID-19 information page.
Glenn F. Boyce