May 8, 2020
Dear CU Boulder faculty, staff and students,
Today I’m excited to acknowledge our students, who just completed final exams remotely under difficult circumstances as this most unusual spring semester draws to a close. In eight days, we will celebrate more than 6,500 students, who make up a unique graduating class. The accomplishments and sacrifices of all of our students, faculty and staff will be memorable in the face of this pandemic.
Once again, I want to express gratitude to students and faculty for their remote learning and teaching this spring, the critical services staff who have kept our campus operational, and everyone who continues to soldier on remotely as we are fully engaged in planning for the fall semester.
As we consider when and how we return to campus, it’s important for us to emphasize that the primary consideration will be the health and safety of our campus community members, particularly those who are most vulnerable. Most of us will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future, and we will begin with a phased return to research activities being piloted this summer. Employees who are currently working remotely should not return to work until they have received specific authorization to do so and have completed the training that will accompany returning to work. Additional details about requirements and processes for those authorized to return to campus will be forthcoming in the coming weeks.
We know the fall semester will look different from what we are all accustomed to. The Academic Year 2020-21 Planning Team has now received well over 1,000 inputs from every corner of our campus community, including dozens of innovative ideas for our return to an in-person campus experience that places the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff as its top priority.
The foundation of our planning effort is the development of a robust health and safety model that will include testing, tracing, enhanced sanitation, personal protective equipment, reduced population density on campus, the ability to isolate suspected cases and a robust training and education program. We are developing this model via the return-to-research plan I mentioned above, and we anticipate that—in order to minimize COVID risks as much as possible for every member of our community—all campus stakeholders will be required to complete trainings and agree to ongoing health and safety protocols as a condition of being physically present on campus.
We will be agile in our approach based on the new information and feedback we receive. In this spirit, our planning team today is sharing potential academic instruction and first-year experience ideas for faculty input and feedback. Many of these ideas have originated directly from faculty, staff and students, and they include:
Beginning the semester as planned in August, with an enhanced first-year academic experience that features academic and residential cohorting. In this model, all first-year students would belong to closely-knit peer groups where they share academic courses and experience student life and co-curricular activities together in local campus environments.
Offering two eight-week sessions for some courses within the typical 16-week semester.
Reducing the number of contacts individuals have through enhanced physical (social) distancing in classrooms and between class times by extending the daily class schedule, staggering in-person attendance, and increasing transition times between classes to reduce the population density of students and faculty. In this model, all large lectures would be delivered remotely, with smaller in-person recitations.
The flexibility for students and faculty to participate in-person or remotely as circumstances allow, including the option to complete the semester remotely after Fall Break or to remain on campus for specific course-related needs in order to reduce the potential for the virus spreading due to domestic or international travel later this fall.
There are many more details in development, and our planning team is developing additional campus input opportunities we will share with you in the coming days. Inclusive of the input and feedback you provide, the team will deliver its recommendations by the middle of May, and we will announce our plan by or before June 1.
I’m optimistic for the plan our campus is developing, and I want to thank everyone for the quick work, continued engagement and the sense of urgency we have for bringing our students safely back to campus in service to our mission. We are facing the pandemic thoughtfully, with an appreciation of the risks, but head on as a community.
Based on CU Board of Regents planning scenarios, the CU Boulder campus is facing anywhere from a $121 million to a $651 million funding shortfall for the next fiscal year. Unit leaders are providing budget planning scenarios later today to help us understand our options and prepare for the decisions we will need to make in the days and weeks ahead. The budget scenarios will help us examine cost-saving measures throughout the campus, but we are not asking units to implement any of them until we have a better understanding of our fiscal situation. This week, in order to further understand the campus’s financial landscape, we are also asking units to begin updated reserve fund reporting, a regular process we normally complete at the end of the fiscal year.
As previously communicated, the campus is beginning to implement furloughs in an effort to avoid layoffs. Individual units will be making these decisions, but it is important to distinguish between two different types of furloughs.
Continuous Furlough: If a unit is unable to support work for an employee, that could result in that employee being continuously furloughed until the campus can return the employee to regular work. Continuously furloughed employees will receive benefits and will be eligible for unemployment compensation until the campus can return them to work. The currently available unemployment benefits should allow most furloughed employees to receive amounts equal to their normal earnings over the summer, and we intend to return many furloughed employees to campus as we hope to resume more normal fall operations.
Periodic Furloughs: The campus will also consider periodic furloughs, where some employees may be furloughed for a day or more per month, as that may allow us to spread the fiscal impact across our entire employee population and avoid layoffs and other cuts that would harm our ability to meet the university’s mission.
The CU system officers, provost, chief operating officer and I have already announced pay cuts through furloughs for ourselves. Today, we are expanding periodic furloughs to officers of the CU Boulder campus—deans, vice chancellors, and associate vice chancellors—all of whom will be taking two unpaid furlough days a month beginning July 1, 2020 and continuing through the upcoming academic year.
Critical services pay and paid administrative leave for most employees who have been unable to work remotely will also end by May 31. Most of the employees receiving paid administrative leave will be placed on continuous furlough and be eligible for unemployment compensation and benefits. Affected employees will hear from their departmental leadership and HR liaisons, and please also refer to the HR COVID-19 Guidance webpage as a resource for questions.
We have gone through difficult times over the last few weeks and these tough times are going to continue. I believe in the strength of our community, not only to get us through this crisis, but to ensure we are a better university when it is over. We are living in extraordinary times and I have faith in your extraordinary responses so we can continue to deliver the mission of a major public research institution.
We are Buffs together,