From the President, re: Fall Reopening

May 29, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

The academic year ended on a high note with a wonderful celebration of our senior class, both online and in person, with hundreds of congratulatory yard signs delivered across the state.

The high levels of engagement and appreciation reminded me that the beating heart of Southern is alive and well as we enter the summer months and begin our planning for the fall semester.

As you read in President Ojakian’s letter earlier today, the CSCU System Office has outlined a  reopening schedule for the four Connecticut State Universities and the community colleges.

Each university will adopt a HyFlex model of learning for the new semester – essentially offering a mix of classes both on-ground and online. Under Southern’s “OwlFlex”  system, classes would commence Aug. 26, following a staggered move-in for our residence hall students.

Every institution will develop a plan of operation specific to its own campus – and must be ready to pivot to fully online instruction and operation at a moment’s notice, dependent on circumstances.

The goal is to complete the entire fall semester as scheduled, with one caveat – on-ground classes will end at the Thanksgiving break. After Thanksgiving, all remaining classes and final exams will be held online and all student services will be offered remotely.

In Phase 4 of his reopening plan for Connecticut, Governor Lamont is expected to enforce a cap of 50 on large gatherings – which would impact class sizes and other events that we typically hold on campus during the semester.

While 85 percent of our classes have 25 students or less, social distancing requirements will limit space in many of our classrooms. Therefore, we  will likely have to make adjustments to scheduling; utilize other facilities on campus for instruction purposes and ensure that all classrooms have livestream video capability.

For our staff, a decision has still to be made by the governor’s office regarding when, and in what capacity, state employees will return to their places of work. Under current conditions, the campus will remain closed during the summer to all but essential personnel and a limited number of staff who may be required to assist with preparations for a fall reopening.

I have asked my vice presidents to work with their divisional directors to determine which areas may need to be fully staffed on ground in the fall, and which areas could operate on staggered shifts or continue to have teams or individuals working remotely.

I have also asked for an assessment of workspace needs in each division, as maintaining health and safety is the vital element in any reopening scenario. In doing so, we will be sensitive and responsive to the individual concerns and issues of our employees.

As you know, there are communities and individuals among us who have suffered greatly during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic – both from the illness and its economic fallout. And it is an essential element of our social justice mission that we display kindness and compassion during a time of great anxiety for many.

As I have mentioned previously, we must provide detailed reports to the state Department of Public Health showing that we can meet mandatory safety standards before we can commence on-campus operations. And we will also have to adhere to specific public health guidelines for colleges and universities concerning the wearing of facemasks, social distancing, and the number and spacing of occupants in residence halls, classrooms and dining areas.

PPE for all staff members has been requested by Southern through the System Office, and will be supplied by the state. Similarly, testing and contact tracing requirements are also expected to be handled at the state level, in conjunction with area health agencies.

I want to emphasize that PPE will be made available for all of our personnel, not only those who will be regularly interacting with students and other staff or the general public. The level of PPE available may be different, depending on where you work, but there will be no system of preference at Southern when it comes to ensuring employee safety.

During the summer, I will update you regularly with more information about our fall planning as it becomes available. I also encourage you to continue to offer your ideas and suggestions for the fall semester at: https://form.jotform.com/201283998543061

Clearly, as this is very early into the state’s reopening process, our plans will need to be flexible, dependent on the trajectory of the COVID-19 virus and any statewide public health directives that may be in place at the time of a fall reopening.

Stay well, and find ways to make this summer relaxing and enjoyable.  I commend you again for your outstanding efforts on behalf of Southern and our students during a difficult time of transition for our university.

And I look forward to your many and valued contributions, as we work together to create a safe and healthy learning and working environment for all members of our campus community.

Sincerely,

Joe Bertolino
President