It’s hard to believe that this week marks three full months since Chancellor Steve Wrigley directed all 26 University System of Georgia institutions to move to an online instructional environment. Dr. Gretchen Caughman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, sends a message to address Augusta University’s plan to reopen this fall.
“As you already know, much planning and preparation is occurring at all levels of the institution to ready our campuses for face-to-face instruction in fall 2020,” she said. “As Dr. Keel shared in both of his recent town halls, a comprehensive project is underway to develop and operationalize plans across all areas of our mission and to guide students, faculty and staff in fulfilling their roles.”
Many faculty and staff have been involved in this planning, either as a member of one of the 10 work groups or by other means. Caughman is working with University Senate Chair Peter Basciano to plan a town hall to provide more information regarding plans, particularly related to instruction, research, enrollment management and student affairs. Details of this event will be announced soon.
Workplace and health safety plan
“The difficult truth is that no one can eliminate all risks posed by COVID-19, and that the virus will remain a threat for the foreseeable future,” Caughman said. “This plan’s highest priority, and the focus of every associated planning discussion, is minimizing those risks. This was the first of 10 plans to address specific considerations set forth by the USG. We submitted our plan on May 15 and have received USG feedback on the plan and additional guidance regarding workplace and health safety.”
Some key takeaways from the plan and from Keel’s recent town hall include:
- Social distancing will be expected and accomplished through virtual meetings, adapted physical spaces, and some authorization of telework and flexible scheduling in accordance with existing HR procedures.
- All individuals are strongly encouraged to wear masks or cloth face coverings on campus. Employees who are typically required to wear a face mask or other personal protective equipment should continue to do so. With some exceptions related to individual job requirements, all individuals will be responsible for supplying their own face coverings.
- Accommodations for employees at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness will be determined by HR in accordance with existing AU procedures and based on USG, DPH, and CDC guidance. Documentation for underlying medical conditions will be required as a part of the individual’s request for alternate work arrangements.
- Staff within the Division of Facilities Services are already hard at work preparing campus spaces and readying for reopening buildings that have been closed. Their preparations include but are not limited to cleaning surfaces, replacing end-of-life filters, reconfiguring common spaces to encourage social distancing and assessing needs for other measures (e.g. installing Plexiglas barriers).
- All non-essential AU/job-related travel is prohibited until further notice.
The other nine plans, including those for academics and research, were submitted to the USG on May 26. The university anticipates receiving USG feedback on these plans by the end of this week, which will enable them to move forward with operationalizing and communicating additional plans via the faculty town hall and through other information resources.
College and division return to campus
The USG’s feedback on Workplace and Health Safety included an expectation that each system institution will establish clear plans for when faculty and staff should return to their physical work environment and what practices will be in place upon their return.
“Due to the complexity and diversity of AU’s colleges and divisions, President Keel and I felt that such planning should rest with the colleges and divisions. All deans and vice presidents (and in some cases, department chairs and directors) have developed a return to campus plan for faculty and staff in their areas,” Caughman said.
The principal purpose of this planning is to ensure that leaders are intentionally considering the practical considerations needed to encourage social distancing and healthy hygiene habits in the physical spaces within their colleges and divisions (e.g., reception areas, faculty offices, break rooms). These plans do not address teaching spaces, such as classrooms and labs, and they do not address shared spaces, such as restrooms and elevators. Those spaces are addressed in the other AU reopening plans and are awaiting USG feedback. Please reach out to your dean or chair for more information about your college’s or department’s return to campus plan.
In addition to the upcoming faculty town hall, Caughman is partnering with Dr. Karla Leeper and the Division of Communications and Marketing to enhance communications related to the reopening of AU’s campus for fall 2020.
“I am excited that we are now reaching a point where we will have the USG feedback needed to provide clearer guidance to all students, faculty, and staff. While much will continue to evolve and even change over the next several months, Dr. Keel, Dr. Keen, and I are all committed to providing you with timely updates to support your teaching and research,” Caughman said.