Chancellor's Update 3-23-21

Return of Non-Faculty Staff to Campus Expected to Ramp up Now through Summer

Return of Non-Faculty Staff to Campus Expected to Ramp up Now through Summer

March 23, 2021

Dear U of A Employees:

Hard to believe, but this past Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the university’s transition to remote working (classes switched to remote the week prior). Some days it feels like it was just a few months ago, other days it feels like a century ago. Either way, I think the end is now in sight.

More than 6,000 faculty, staff and students have already been vaccinated through the university while many others are securing vaccination appointments on their own. We continue to encourage our employees to be vaccinated and count ourselves lucky to be among one of the earliest groups to be offered access. Better yet, thousands of students became eligible for the first time when Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the latest expansion of the state vaccination rollout, Phase 1-C. More than 13% of Arkansans have now been vaccinated. A large proportion of our students may also be eligible for vaccinations before the end of this semester – which is fantastic news.

The reason we went remote was for safety. And now, based off these encouraging trends, we are planning our return to campus in preparation for a face-to-face fall. While things may never be exactly the same as they were before, we expect to achieve some level of normalcy, including classrooms and workplaces at their usual capacity, as well as regular capacity crowds at sports events, public performances and lectures. Whether masks will still be needed in the fall remains to be seen as vaccination rates will be a consideration – it’s just too early to say.

The purpose of this memo is to outline our return to campus expectations and is directed to non-faculty staff. The provost communicated separately to faculty late last week.

Returning Additional Non-Faculty Staff to Campus

Planning for more staff to return to campus should start now, with each department completing their anticipated plan for the return of those currently working remotely by the end of this semester. Supervisors should plan for the appropriate benchmarks in consultation with their unit heads – perhaps start with those remote staff who express readiness to come back now. I regularly hear from many staff who have been fully vaccinated and are ready to get back to campus, so we should encourage those employees first (assuming the workplace is ready).

By June 14 – or sooner – our goal is to have 100% of employees who would normally be on campus back on campus. We will need everyone back to support the full return of our students. This is in concert with last week’s Board of Trustees resolution articulating expectations for the entire University of Arkansas System to be back on campus by the start of the fall 2021 semester.

Of course, this comes with some caveats and nothing is set in stone. Any surge in COVID-19 infections could modify our return plans – the health and safety of our campus community will continue to shape all decision making. Consideration for employees who may need to continue to work remotely as a reasonable accommodation for a disability will be addressed on a case-by-case basis through our normal accommodation process with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance (OEOC).

Lastly, the university is also in the process of reviewing and updating its remote work policy, which we will share with campus as soon as it’s ready. I fully anticipate some employees and/or campus functions may continue to work remotely if in the best interests of the university.

Our COVID-19 website will be updated with all the latest guidance and information later this spring, but generally speaking, here are some things to keep in mind as we continue returning to campus:

  • Employees who have COVID-19 should not work on-site.
  • Employees recovering or recovered from COVID-19 should follow ADH guidance and the guidance of their doctor.
  • Employees should self-screen for symptoms daily. Workday has a feature built in to assist with this.
  • Face masks or face coverings that completely cover the nose and mouth are still required in all buildings.
  • Employees are still encouraged to limit the size of in-person meetings and participants are encouraged to utilize a conference call or video option when appropriate.
  • In-person meetings must accommodate sufficient social distancing and face covering requirements. (Our meeting rooms all have posted capacity limits.)

Now I invite unit leaders to begin putting together plans for returning to full strength on-site. These plans should be approved by your unit head (dean or vice chancellor) and be ready to share with your units by May 17 so employees can plan accordingly. May 17 is also the date the State of Arkansas has set for employees of state agencies to return from remote work. While our timeline as an institution differs somewhat, the May 17 date provides valuable context regarding expectations for public employees.

Finally, I’ll add that while I consider this great news, some of you may still have some trepidation about returning. Just know that the health and safety of our campus has been our guidepost in every decision made throughout the pandemic. We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust as needed. We believe now is the right time to take this step and we believe it can be done safely.

With appreciation,

Joe Steinmetz, Ph.D.