May 5, 2020
Dear OU Community,
This week we enter the final days of the spring 2020 semester, one that has been truly unique in our University’s 130-year history. We have spent the last several weeks responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and adapting to unforeseen challenges as a University community. The resilience the OU family has shown is nothing short of remarkable. I remain extremely grateful for your optimism, commitment, and care for each other.
We are actively planning our phased return to normal operations. This work, done in consultation with our public health and infectious diseases experts at the OU Health Sciences Center, requires us to balance a number of interests, and we will certainly calibrate our plans over the coming weeks and months as appropriate. In light of its high concentration of clinical, experiential education, the HSC campus has begun a phased return specific to its unique operations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
To maximize safety, and to prepare for the fall semester on the Norman campus, our plan is divided into several phases, with some departments and positions returning earlier than others. This controlled approach is crafted with careful consideration of local and state level recommended guidelines. Because we are offering summer instruction exclusively online and all summer camps and activities have been suspended, the Norman campus is in a position to safely phase in the reopening process over the next few months.
Phase 1 of this process for the Norman campus will serve as a pilot program, allowing us to best prepare for our full return to normal operations in August. Beginning Monday, May 11, we will welcome back operations staff to begin readying our campus for the fall. Shortly thereafter, some research faculty who require physical access to facilities will return to campus. All employees in this phase – operations personnel and research faculty – will complete health screenings, developed by our physicians at the Health Sciences Center, and some may be tested for the virus. This initial phase will be instructive, allowing us to implement and refine protective measures, including the required use of PPE, heightened social distancing and hygiene practices, increased cleaning, and more. More information on this ramped-up return will be shared with involved groups by the Vice President for Operations and the Vice President for Research and Partnerships in the coming days.
This first controlled phase, as well as ongoing consultation with experts regarding the most up-to-date knowledge of the disease, will inform subsequent phase protocols for reopening. Details on the subsequent phases – including dates and impacted personnel – will be communicated in the coming weeks.
I have formed a task force, led by VPRP Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, to establish protocols for possible testing, contact tracing, scientific sampling, and other procedures that we may employ on the Norman campus for increased safety. More information on these efforts will be shared soon.
Telecommuting and Administrative Leave
Our HR guidelines continue to encourage telecommuting where possible until further notice. Administrative Leave with pay (Admin Leave COVID-19) will continue through June 30 (the end of the fiscal year), with the understanding that employees will be phasing back to campus and will be expected to return to in-person work on the date communicated by their supervisor. Supervisors will provide work plans specific to each department, outlining continued telecommuting and workplace modifications for increased safety. Supervisors will communicate return plans with employees and provide as much notice as possible, but no less than 48 hours’ notice of expected return. At this time, we are not contemplating a university-wide furlough between now and June 30.
Each phase will be guided by continuous, science-based decision-making and necessary safety protocols. Just one example of our approach is the Clean and Green initiative, launched by University Operations. Through Clean and Green, the cleaning procedures on our campuses have been augmented by the installation of hundreds of hand sanitizing stations and the use of electrostatic spray technology in high-traffic areas. We will continue to find novel and effective ways to keep our community safe.
We remain committed to returning to full operations this fall, offering the traditional OU experience of in-person instruction and residential life. Our phased return plan is designed with flexibility in mind so that we can easily adapt to our changing environment and safely prepare for the academic year. We will communicate on this matter often and with increased detail as we refine our plans and finalize the subsequent phases.
As always, I thank you for your continued cooperation and patience as we navigate this challenging time.
Joseph Harroz, Jr.