May 22 Message to Faculty/Staff: Ambiguity, Appreciation and Assessments for Fall

To Our Faculty and Staff:

We approach this holiday weekend with so many questions.

Will attending Memorial Day festivities risk infection? Will Northeast Ohio see a spike in cases with so much reopening? Will any of the COVID-19 treatments now in clinical trials work well enough for a real return to normalcy?

Of course, no one can say for sure. And despite so many months of enduring uncertainty, few have found that practice makes it any easier. 

Even with the worry that such ambiguity creates, though, you continue to contribute to Case Western Reserve in extraordinary ways. You engaged with students, supported teaching and research, and regularly found new ways to perform functions critical to the university’s current and future operations. 

Then there are the hundreds of custodians, facilities and public safety staff who kept reporting to campus throughout the spring, as well as the researchers and staff who remained in labs to help make progress against COVID-19. They all have demonstrated exceptional courage and commitment.

For those reasons and many more, I wish that I could write today with details about the fall semester. This week’s announcements from some universities that in-person instruction would end by Thanksgiving significantly increased interest in information about our own plans. While we are making strong progress, we still need additional data to inform our decisions. 

We expect to be able to announce the fall semester’s calendar during the first week of June.

Below are the parts of the process that will inform that decision:

Teaching Space Assessment: In collaboration with schools and other units, Facilities Management and a local architect have been assessing 380 rooms across campus to determine their capacity in a context of social distancing. The list includes not only lecture halls and seminar spaces regularly used, but also areas traditionally reserved for events and meetings. We will receive the final report early next week.

Discussion of Scheduling Options: The offices of the Provost and Registrar will determine the assessment’s implications for fall class schedules, and develop guidelines for room assignments. Those guidelines will inform the efforts of more than a half dozen different groups—including Faculty Senate committees, academic deans, research deans, and school executive committee leaders—who are considering multiple aspects of fall planning. Their work involves topics ranging from the academic calendar to academic spaces, dual-delivery models to research ramp-ups. With the assessments and guidelines in hand, these groups will offer their recommendations for the fall semester.

Deliberation and Decision: The 60-plus member Policy and Operations Committee created in March—which includes Faculty Senate representation—will review the information and recommendations and provide their comments prior to a final decision by President’s Cabinet. As part of that process, the committee also will receive the most recent updates regarding epidemiological projections, experts’ advice and public health perspectives.

Many of those people involved in these efforts already played pivotal roles in our transition to remote operations in the spring. I am grateful that they are continuing to devote so much time and energy to this next stage of our preparations.

Meanwhile, we continue to evaluate our financial condition, both in terms of the fiscal year that ends June 30, as well as the one beginning July 1. As a starting point, all units have submitted proposals for cutting their 2020-2021 budgets by 10 percent; we since have been looking closely at a range of other options to reduce expenses. I will update you regarding those measures as soon as they are finalized, possibly as soon as next week.

Finally, I want to thank the nearly 100 staff who began working in their offices this week, as well as the nearly 30 units that have applied to begin their own process of returning to campus. To learn more about the steps of that process, please visit the Return to Campus website that launched last Sunday.

I wish all of you a wonderful holiday weekend.

Barbara R. Snyder