May 29, 2020
Dear Tulane Community:
Over the past few months, Tulane has faced a series of unprecedented events that have impacted virtually every individual and institution in our society. In a demonstration of classic Tulanian resilience, we have confronted these challenges exceptionally well and will emerge stronger — medically, educationally, and academically. I have never been prouder of our community. We now are turning to our plans for the coming fall. Six committees of university leaders, faculty, staff, and student representatives have been working assiduously to make plans for our return for the fall of 2020. Their deliberations have been guided by two fundamental principles.
First, and foremost, is the health and safety of the Tulane community. This is non-negotiable. While every part of our society is facing increased health risks, our members must be confident that their well-being is paramount in our decision-making. In this effort, we are aided by the fact that we have access to some of the best medical and public health minds in the world at Tulane. We are also making decisions about actions that will occur several months in the future, when testing and public health protections are expected to continue to improve.
Secondly, the continuation of our educational, research and clinical mission is critical to preparing the leaders of a post-COVID-19 world, as well as continuing our current battle against this global pandemic. The value of a leading research university and academic medical center like Tulane to the future of our country has never been more apparent than at this moment.
In adherence to our guiding principles, it is the recommendation of the Education Reopening Committee, with the approval of the University Senate Committee on Educational Policy, that the fall 2020 semester begin on Wednesday, Aug. 19, five days earlier than originally scheduled, and continue through Tuesday, Nov. 24 (graduate and professional schools may vary). Most final exams will be taken online after Thanksgiving. This accelerated fall semester is intended to reduce travel to promote the health and safety of the community.
At the same time, we are moving forward with a comprehensive and rigorous program for the well-being of our students, faculty and staff in New Orleans. Our goal is to test individuals as they return to campus and to provide frequent testing during the school year. We are grateful that our financial position is such, at this time, that we are able to undertake this effort and bring back our full contingent of dedicated employees, who are so central to our success.
We will also be implementing a broad policy to implement social distancing, face coverings, plexiglass shields and hand sanitizers in classrooms and public areas. In housing and residential life, we will de-densify residence halls with the provision of some off-campus single room options and establish an on-campus infirmary to quarantine and care for any ill or test-positive students. Classrooms will also be adjusted to reduce density, and remote teaching and learning options offered. Employees will follow a similar pattern of social distancing, and, where appropriate, continue to work remotely. We will also offer special considerations for those individuals who are particularly vulnerable to the disease, including learning, teaching or working.
Although much of our planning is to support the health of our community, we have not lost sight of what makes Tulane so special – our unique relational culture. Tulanians are spirited, social and engaged. The continuation of a robust student experience is imperative. As we prepare to welcome students back to campus in fall, we are also planning for opportunities to connect with peers and faculty to develop those bonds that are such an important part of Tulane life.
Planning for our “new normal” is complicated and all of our plans are contingent on local state and federal directives. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-evolving challenge with shifting degrees of uncertainty regarding health recommendations and the best practices necessary to protect our community. We must recognize that, during the coming year, there will be individuals in every community in our country that may contract COVID-19, including at Tulane.
But this is the exact type of challenge for which Tulane was created. We were established to combat an epidemic – the seasonal bouts of yellow fever that devastated coastal regions like ours. We triumphed over that challenge and more than a century and a half later were confronted by Katrina, from which we emerged a stronger, wiser and more resilient community. We draw on this history, experience and knowledge, as well as our collective will, to meet the challenge of COVID-19 today.
I am grateful for the hard work of the many individuals who served on the return-to-campus committees and have gotten us this far along in our planning. The initial recommendations submitted by these committees are thoughtful, careful and provide an emerging roadmap for our path forward as we continue our planning process. As local, state and federal guidance continues to evolve, we will update or adjust our planning accordingly. You can review a summary of these recommendations online.
As we enter the public feedback phase of our planning, we need your thoughts and feedback – it is vital that we all have a voice in mapping our path forward. Please participate in one of the virtual Town Hall meetings that I am hosting over the next two weeks. You will be receiving an invitation to register soon, or you can register here to attend. You can also submit suggestions and input via this online portal.
Tulanians are resilient, resourceful, passionate, dedicated and committed to making a real difference in the world. I am confident that by working together, sharing in the common goal of safely reopening our university while treating each other with compassion and support, we will become a model for how a community can respond to crisis and emerge stronger than ever before.
I look forward to having our community back together, in person, once again.