During an online town hall meeting on Monday, campus leaders stressed that the University will follow a number of safety precautions and protocols as students, faculty and staff begin to gradually return to campus over the coming weeks and months.
The gathering was moderated by Faculty Senate Chair Brian Frost. More than 1,000 people signed up for the town hall, and more than 100 questions were submitted either before or during the event.
“We’re fulfilling our missions … although in a remote fashion,” President Marc Johnson said. He added, “Although we have remote (summer school) instruction until July 10, I think people are really looking forward to getting back.”
To that end, the University is currently in what several University leaders on Monday termed a phased approach to returning to campus. Tim McFarling, associate vice president of Human Resources, outlined what is called “Planning for the Return of the Pack,” a number of policies and procedures that are currently being used or will be used as students, faculty and staff return to campus.
Based on the most current directives from Sisolak and Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly, the University remains in an alternative operations mode – most employees will continue to work remotely, buildings are closed, classes and instruction remain online until July 10, on-campus work authorization is required, per NSHE instructions.
McFarling said training will be required when Gov. Sisolak announces the reopening of state offices and before individuals return to campus to work. This will include general COVID-19 training for University personnel, COVID-19 training for individuals working or using research labs or spaces that utilize creative activities, supervisor COVID-19 training, well-being/wellness training in the time of COVID, and a student guide to remote learning. The training modules will be made available on Web Campus (Canvas).
“The number one thing is to gain a sense of security,” Johnson said. “If everyone follows the guidelines, and follows required safety measures, we can come back in a phased in way.”
With the campus currently in alternative operations mode, preparations are already being made to make the campus’ built environment safer, McFarling said. Protective barriers are being installed in student- and public-facing areas, for example.
Provost Kevin Carman said that planning is underway for a “hy-flex” approach to classroom instruction after July 13 and into the fall semester. The modality features a combination of in-person and online delivery of teaching for larger enrollment classes. He said up to 65 classrooms will be “hy-flex,” with no more than half of a large enrollment class physically in the classroom at any one time. The other half would receive instruction at the same time, while online. Those in the classroom would observe strict social distancing protocols. He said classes of more than 100 students will be taught remotely.
“If we have a second wave into the fall, hy-flex will allow us to pivot very quickly and hopefully very seamlessly (to pure remote delivery),” he said. He added training will be made available for faculty to better utilize hy-flex teaching, and learning resources are also being made available to students.
Vice President for Student Services Shannon Ellis said the University has learned important lessons regarding providing services such as residential housing and food service. The vast majority of students in residential halls moved off campus once the COVID-19 outbreak hit northern Nevada, although 91 students, due to personal circumstances, remained in the residential halls through the just completed spring semester.
“They’ve been living safely and enjoying the opportunity to try out social distancing,” Ellis said of the students. She added that, “We have never shut down completely the opportunity to have a residential experience for our students.”
Based on the state’s directives on business re-openings, Ellis said plans are being made to reopen the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center, utilizing spacing and sanitizing protocols and limits in using locker rooms and elevators, as well as reopening the Joe Crowley Student Union, where food vendors are expected to reopen using paperless transactions. She added that Nye Hall, which was damaged in last summer’s Argenta Hall explosion, is on track to reopen by August.
“We are fully intending to provide a residential experience for our students this fall,” she said.
Vice President for Research and Innovation Mridual Gautam said all research activity, like the rest of the campus, will follow a “phased approach that allows for gradual reintroduction of normal operations. As we move through Phase 1 and beyond, we’re following a set of principles to emphasize the over-arching goal of health and safety of faculty, staff and students.”
Dr. Cheryl Hug-English, the director of the Student Health Center, said the availability of testing in northern Nevada has increased “dramatically,” in recent weeks. There will be testing available at the Student Health Center as well as UNR Med clinics. She said the University will endeavor to utilize a “boxing in” approach that has been recommended by national health officials and been proven to have success: testing, isolating those who are infected, contact tracing to determine exposure and spread, and self-quarantining.
“It seems likely that this virus will be with us for a while,” she said. “We need to find ways to coexist with this virus in a safe and strategic way.”
Johnson said he wished to address “rumors” about the University’s budget. Earlier in the spring semester, the governor’s office requested budget-reducing scenarios for all of the state’s governmental agencies up to 14 percent. Sisolak has also called for a special session of the legislature to address COVID-19 related issues. Johnson said there are still many uncertainties regarding the University’s budget, including if there will be any additional federal funding to help states navigate an uncertain and volatile time.
“We have nothing concrete right now,” Johnson said. “The Legislature may implement furloughs or pay cuts, but we just don’t know yet. As soon as we know, we will let you know.” Johnson added that after a decade-plus of sustained excellence and achievement in all areas of the institution’s mission, the priority in the event of cuts will be retention of faculty and staff.
“It’s very important to keep this top team together,” he said.