Tuesday, March 17, 2020 - 8:29pm
Dear Rice Faculty and Staff,
Every day brings new information about the spread of COVID-19 and changing guidance from government public health officials. Yesterday, the national government and especially some state and city governments undertook much more drastic measures to stop the spread of this virus. We must react quickly to these changing circumstances and I write to you with updated policies that will dramatically reduce campus activity until the end of the semester, and perhaps beyond. I know it can be difficult to receive a fairly constant stream of communications from different sources at the university, but this crisis necessitates that we update you frequently, and also that those with direct responsibility for various matters communicate with you directly about details. This communication is also somewhat lengthy because I want to summarize most of the important university decisions now in place for faculty and staff.
While our COVID-19 policies have been frequently updated over the past six weeks to respond to the rapidly evolving situation, our core set of principles has remained unchanged and guides all of our decisions:
- Protect the health, safety and wellbeing of every member of our community, and contribute to the local and national efforts to reduce the spread of this deadly virus.
- Base our decisions on health guidance from an authoritative scientific source – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Continue carrying out our academic mission as best as possible given the circumstances.
- Take actions that are consistent with our Rice values of responsibility, integrity, community and excellence.
Our goal is to protect all members of the Rice community, whether they are working here on campus or from home. The guidance from the CDC has consistently focused on social distancing as the main mitigation strategy against the further spread of the novel coronavirus. The CDC defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others where possible” with the goal of reducing the chance of transmission, especially among high risk populations.
We must significantly reduce our campus population to achieve these goals. On any given day during the academic year, we have approximately 11,000 people on our campus. Consistent with the social distancing guidance from the CDC, we must decrease the population density and physical proximity of faculty, staff and students. Our goal is to reduce our on-campus population to approximately 1,000 people, with appropriate separation in each building and work space.
Here is a summary of the policies and actions we have taken or will be taking this week:
- Education. We have been very gratified by our faculty’s can-do response to delivering all our Spring 2020 classes remotely. Our plan is to begin remote delivery on March 23 and enable all students to complete their spring semester courses.
- Research. As announced in a message earlier today from the Vice Provost for Research, Rice will reduce the number of on-campus research personnel by at least 75% by ramping down all on-campus research programs, and adopting remote working and alternative work schedules, by March 20. Our goal is to maintain on-going critical research, materials, equipment maintenance and other scholarly activities, while minimizing the possibility of transmission of the virus. Each lab must develop a COVID-19 response plan with minimal staffing that is responsive to this directive.
- Work at Home Arrangements for Staff. Our goal is to reduce the on-campus staff population from 2,700 to approximately 300 at any given time, together with appropriate spacing and meeting behaviors. This means rethinking our definition of “essential” when many staff can now work remotely. For those personnel who are deemed essential to be on-campus, supervisors must find ways to reduce the days staff are on the campus, through such means as job sharing, rotations and alternative work schedules. Supervisors must have a plan for every staff position by Friday, March 20. Each staff member must be operating in the new work arrangement no later than Monday, March 23 and until further notice.
In addition, I want to remind everyone of our previous guidance:
a. We will not furlough or reduce compensation for employees this semester.
b. Supervisors must make appropriate accommodations for people with medical conditions that place them more at risk than the general population.
c. In no case should employees come to campus when they are ill.
- Size of Gatherings and Meetings. In-person meetings are strongly discouraged when the meeting’s goals can be accomplished remotely. When in-person meetings are essential, Rice will follow the federal government guidance to limit gatherings to 10 people or less, with individuals spaced at least six feet apart.
- Travel. Rice continues its ban on all university-sponsored international travel for faculty, staff, postdocs and students through April 30. We recognize that in a limited number of cases, the impact of this decision could have significant professional consequences. If that is the case, an appeal may be made to the provost's office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any faculty, staff, new hire, student, new arriving student or visitor arriving from any Level 3 country, as defined by the CDC, must self-isolate and stay away from campus and student housing and have no physical contact with the Rice community for two weeks after returning to the U.S. This includes any students, faculty or staff traveling for personal reasons
We continue to strongly discourage all domestic travel at this time.
- Closures. In order to minimize the possibility for person-to-person transmission, the following facilities will be closed, starting on Thursday, March 19: Gibbs Recreation Center; Rice Memorial Center; campus USPS post office; Rice Children’s Campus; and Brochstein Pavilion.
Fondren Library will also be closed to all visitors starting March 19, but will continue to provide remote access to digital content, including online journals and databases, the Rice Digital Scholarship Archive, and digital content from the Woodson Research Center. Library staff are also available to consult via email or Skype. Please refer to the library’s website for more details.Physical materials from the Fondren Library, the Library Service Center and interlibrary loan will be shipped to the Rice cardholder’s homes. Details about how to request this service will be provided soon.
Retail food establishments on campus will provide to-go service and dining rooms will be closed.
These are the primary measures we have taken thus far. We welcome hearing your concerns and listening to your advice as we move forward.
This is not the Spring Break or spring semester that we expected and eagerly anticipated. We are faced with circumstances and measures that are unprecedented in our lifetimes. The disruption to our community, to our mission and to many individual lives is enormous. The consequences of this pandemic will be significant for all of us. But the burdens do not fall equally, and we must remain cognizant of that as we move forward.
What I have observed over the past weeks is a community committed to doing the right thing for all of our members. A community engaged in education and research that can overcome the obstacles. A community that cares deeply not merely about its own campus, but about our city, our nation and our world. We will do all we can to make a positive difference as we address this crisis and, when it is over, we will do much more.
With warmest regards and deepest gratitude,