The Spring 2020 semester at Purdue will go down as one for the ages. As we wrap up this most challenging academic year, I will just say once more how grateful and humbled I am with the response of our faculty and staff to the radical disruptions in the life of our university and your personal lives caused by COVID-19, and stress that you have been under as a result. I won’t repeat the full message of my last column here, but I can assure you the appreciation and respect I expressed then has only grown these past few weeks for your work, your collaborative spirit, the care you demonstrated for our students and each other, and the sheer determination it took to do something as monumental as moving our entire teaching enterprise to a remote format. I wish you every success in finishing the semester strong.
I so wish I could say that our biggest challenge is behind us, but that is simply not true. While there is much uncertainty with almost every aspect of COVID-19, one point on which experts agree is that this virus is not going away. Until we have an effective vaccine that is in widespread use, COVID-19 will be part of our lives, and finding a way to live with it will be a central challenge for everyone.
As President Daniels indicated in his letter last week, we will begin the process of taking actions that will allow us to live, as safely as possible, with COVID-19. Utilizing the outstanding work of the Safe Campus Task Force, which was shaped in important ways by direct engagement and ideas from dozens of faculty and staff, that process will start with a safe and orderly ramp-up of research over the summer. (Decisions about July on-campus instructional activities and events will be made by May 15.)
Assuming we are allowed to do so by public health authorities, we intend to bring our undergraduate students back to campus in the fall, continue to expand the ramp-up of research, and engage with our stakeholders safely. Throughout this careful expansion of our activities, we will continue to support the work of our faculty and staff, and the academic pursuits of our graduate students.
At this point in time, you may find it difficult to imagine how this could be possible — a Fall semester that involves teaching and research on campus may feel like an unrealistic possibility. Perhaps the most important point I will make in this letter is that, no matter what happens between now and August, the Fall of 2020 will be radically different in so many ways at Purdue. But, if we are to teach and conduct research in the safest possible manner, we know it is absolutely critical that Fall 2020 be different.
Most fundamentally, President Daniels foreshadowed that the campus will implement many practices that will allow us to return to our work as a residential university in the safest possible manner, minimizing our risks in ways that let us live with COVID-19. All of us — faculty, staff, and students — will be called on to work within a set of public health guidelines that will impact what we can do and how we can do it. That said, the core of these practices will be aimed directly at protecting you, our faculty and staff, and especially those of you and our students that are most vulnerable. Details on these actions will be announced as the recommendations of the Safe Campus Task Force are finalized.
Much can and will change in the four months until the start of our Fall semester. Obviously, we hope we know much more about COVID-19 by then and how we can best manage the virus. We will also know more about other issues we will need to be sensitive to, such as the status of our K-12 schools and daycares, the course of the virus in our local communities, and actions of our state and nation to combat the virus, etc. We will be engaging you in the preparations, and keeping you apprised of the actions that we will take to scale up activity on our campus.
In the same way that you all worked together to accomplish the transformation we needed to finish out the Spring semester, making our campus safe is going to take the cooperation and effort of us all. We will be called on to do things differently than we have in the past. But, with an unwavering commitment to the health, safety, and well-being of our faculty, staff, and students, I know that working together we can take the aggressive actions needed to live with COVID-19 and continue to deliver on our land-grant mission to the benefit of our students, stakeholders, and each of you.
Boilermakers have a reputation for tackling and solving the hard, real, practical problems and making lives better. We roll up our sleeves and we figure it out. We define the problem, ‘do the math,’ and build the smart solution. It’s just what we do. If any university can pull this off, Purdue can, we can — together.
Stay safe and well,
P.S. Just a quick note of thanks and congratulations to Senior Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Frank Dooley as he transitions to his new role as Chancellor of Purdue Global on May 1. Frank’s fingerprints are on virtually every aspect of our undergraduate program. And, he has truly earned the trust and respect the campus has for him and his leadership. While he will be missed, we wish him well in his new role with Purdue Global — one that does not take him very far from us and affords us the possibility of continuing to benefit from his vision and his leadership.