Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. Gretchen Caughman held a faculty town hall to provide important updates and general guidelines as Augusta University begins reopening for the fall semester.
“We don’t have all the answers yet, and some of those we have now may change as the summer proceeds,” Caughman said at the June 26 town hall. “I know the season of uncertainty is uncomfortable and frustrating to you; it certainly is to me. I very much appreciate your patience and your partnership as we work through it successfully together.”
All offices will reopen and have a physical presence July 1. Students in the professional programs in dentistry and medicine will return to class fully on July 6. On Aug. 3, both campuses will be fully staffed and open. A fall kickoff is scheduled for Aug. 5, with more information on that forthcoming. On Aug. 10, the fall semester will begin for the remaining colleges.
“You probably know every institution in the University System of Georgia was asked to provide four scenarios. The first was sort of the dream scenario, which was that we could all return and open with limited social distancing. It became pretty clear that that wasn’t going to be the case,” Caughman said.
The university will open under the Contingency Plan 1. All classes and activities that go with it will begin with full social distancing expectations. Plans are also in place for two other contingencies: the first is that fall classes will begin fully online if we see significant increases in COVID-19 cases, and the second is that the university will open with full social distancing and move to online learning if the situation worsens.
Under the current contingency plan, faculty, students and staff are strongly encouraged to not shake hands, not hug, and practice good cough and sneeze etiquette. Social distancing of six feet will be expected. Face-to-face meetings will be kept small or virtual as much as possible.
Telework and flexible scheduling will be available consistent with current HR procedures.
At this time, the University System of Georgia has made the decision to follow CDC guidelines, which strongly encourage masks and face coverings. Except in certain circumstances where they are required, such as in elevators and on shuttles, the use of masks is strongly encouraged. It cannot be the decision of an individual faculty member to require masks in the classroom.
The university will purchase two reusable cloth masks for every faculty, staff and student. One will be gray with a small Jaguar logo, and the other will be solid navy blue. This will mean that everyone has a mask they can use. Details regarding distribution of these masks are still being worked out.
Additional social distancing efforts include:
- Revising furniture layouts where appropriate, to include taking out seating in common areas
- Identification and placement of provisions, such as hand sanitizer dispensers, disinfecting wipes, etc. Sanitizer dispensers have been placed at every entrance and other high-occupancy spaces, and will be refilled periodically. Disinfecting wipes will be reserved for computer labs.
- Stickers on the floor to denote 6-foot distancing where appropriate.
- Plexiglas will be installed in areas where customer interaction frequently occurs.
- Environmental Services teams are doing heightened cleaning to prepare for opening.
“One of the things that’s important because it will occur, I can almost guarantee, in fact maybe it already has, is there will be individuals in our community that test positive for COVID-19. When that occurs there are going to be very special additional efforts made to disinfect and make ready again that entire building,” Caughman said.
University job-related travel has been prohibited, regardless of funding source. This decision was based on limits to travel and potential exposure of the virus on campus, rather than on budgetary concerns.
Non-educational events have been limited significantly, including events held internally and externally. The university cannot support social distancing at these events at this time.
Employees who are in one of the categories for higher risk and meet the criteria set by the CDC will have the opportunity to apply for an alternate work arrangement. This arrangement is only for employees and does not cover employees to care for a high-risk individual who lives with them. Please submit requests by June 30, especially faculty, as fall schedules are being made. Documentation for medical conditions will be required and provided to human resources.
Faculty and staff reopening training modules are live now. There are three components to the training: the basics of COVID-19, managing our places and managing our people. Training should be completed by Aug. 3, the official full opening of campuses.
Faculty contracts will be issued soon and were held up pending approval of the budget. Contracts will be loaded into the HR system after July 1. This is the first year contracts are being generated in OneUSG Connect. Faculty will be able and expected to sign their contracts electronically. Prior to that, there will be information sessions regarding this process.
Residents will return to the residence halls. Students will begin moving in with social distancing over the course of a week, similar to the way they moved out in the spring. Visitation and access will be more restricted in the public spaces and the halls.
Occupation will be limited in the dining facilities. Plans will be in place to transition to a carry-out only formula, if necessary.
Campus recreation facilities will open for registered students on July 1 under limited hours and with social distancing standards. Health care and support of other types are available for students virtually and face to face.
As a reminder, as some class elements remain online, students will have access to loaner laptops if such technology is needed.