Published: May 28, 2020

On Thursday, May 21, Chancellor Philip DiStefano hosted a faculty town hall with fellow panelists Provost Russ Moore, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke and special guest Associate Professor Matthew McQueen of integrative physiology.

The event focused on the key planning areas for the 2020-21 academic year and began with DiStefano addressing the challenges of this past spring semester and describing the planning process for the upcoming academic year.

“Our challenge as faculty and academic leadership is to ensure that our mission endures,” said DiStefano. “Our mission of serving the public good is more vital today than ever.”

Serving the public good and continuing the academic mission will take a balance between resource alignment, health and safety measures and academic innovation, according to DiStefano, as he described a planning process that was receiving input from across the institution and engaging a variety of campus experts.

“The work ahead of us is difficult and will require creativity, innovation, extra work and yes, continued sacrifices,” said DiStefano. “It speaks to our ability to sustain and deliver our institutional mission.”

DiStefano then introduced McQueen, an epidemiologist who directs the public health certificate program at CU Boulder and has been heavily involved in the planning for fall 2020. McQueen addressed some of the key health and safety factors that will be taken under consideration as the campus plans for in-person instruction resuming in the fall semester, as well as what is known about the infectiousness and transmission of COVID-19.

McQueen’s key takeaways for a COVID-19-ready campus experience were infection control and prevention through reduced density, physical distancing, hygiene, health monitoring, optimized ventilation and robust public education.

The panel discussion then moved to Moore, who detailed the robust conversations with faculty governance, academic leadership and in town halls throughout the colleges and schools.

“Our approach for the fall balances unit-level flexibility with the alignment of processes to successfully advance the university's teaching and research mission,” said Moore. “Linking this back to what we’ve heard from Professor McQueen, this means the use of instructional strategies that will allow us to vastly minimize campus density.”

Moore then detailed some of the academic approaches to minimize density, including first-year class cohorts, the potential for outdoor instruction, different and extended class schedules, mapped routes for pedestrian traffic and hybridized instruction models.

Moore also emphasized the need for equity in educational access, and how an on-campus experience is vital for technology access, mental health resources and academic support.

O’Rourke followed up by discussing some of the operational processes that will be in place to support in-person instruction in the fall.

Key among these is an expansion of testing and contact tracing abilities, airflow assessments and improvements, as well the ability to provide isolation in the case of infection. Training across the faculty, staff and student population would also be necessary, as well as the use of personal protective equipment to limit transmission.

O’Rourke echoed Moore’s sentiments about ensuring educational opportunity for CU Boulder students.

“What we need to do to ensure an equitable and high-quality educational experience is to make sure that we are aligning resources that will mitigate risk and facilitate a successful return,” said O’Rourke.

After a question and answer session, DiStefano closed the event by reiterating the leadership’s dedication to health and safety and creating the best educational experience possible.

“The university, as you know, has faced adversity throughout its history and it always has come back stronger,” said DiStefano. “However, for us to be successful and there's no doubt about it, we have to work together.”