As we start the 2020-21 academic year, I am confident it has been decades – maybe never – since our faculty, staff and students have been welcomed to a semester like fall 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives. At the same time, our nation has been rocked with racial tensions and unrest unleashed by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. To say both will shape our fall semester in fundamentally important ways is a considerable understatement. In preparation, the work done over the summer by our faculty, staff, students, administration and Trustees has been extraordinary, developing and implementing plans to bring our students’ back safely, and to ensure that all Boilermakers can realize their highest potential here.
I recapped some of the extraordinary summer work of our faculty and staff in my last newsletter and so will share just a few highlights here:
- A fully online option was launched for students who cannot or prefer not to return to campus for a residential fall. Nearly 4,500 undergraduate students are enrolled in some 900+ online courses.
- More than 600 instructors registered for IMPACT X, IMPACT X+, or fully online course production to help them prepare their courses to be delivered in a more flexible, resilient way this fall.
- We had a record number of students (more than 500) on campus for Early Start and Summer Start, as well as 29 Purdue Polytechnic High School Students and 34 peer mentors. Very importantly, they participated in residential courses with virtually no health issues.
- A Research Task Team focused on safe buildings, safe research spaces, and safe people, evaluated and prepared more than 150 major buildings and 4,000+ research labs and service rooms on our campus and across the state, enabling more than 5,500 faculty, staff, post docs, and students to safely re-engage in their research.
More than 50 Town Halls and Protect Purdue Conversations were held across campus, classrooms and labs were reconfigured to meet public safety standards, training materials were developed and distributed, the Protect Purdue Health Center was launched … as I said last month, I could keep going. The level of effort by so many across the University is truly impossible to fully acknowledge, but you have my deepest thanks.
Hopefully, you know by now that in June, our Board of Trustees announced the formation of a task force focused on campus race and equity issues. At the August meeting, the Board named Trustee Don Thompson, an engineering alumnus and former CEO of McDonald’s, as chair of the task force. Members of the task force steering committee and working groups will be announced soon.
The importance of our Board of Trustees taking this action cannot be overstated as they focus on developing a set of actions to help ensure every Boilermaker, and especially our Black Boilermakers and Boilermakers of color, find Purdue a welcoming place of belonging and inclusion, a place where we are united in respect for each other, a place where we value diversity as a source of strength and pride, and a place where everyone can achieve their highest aspirations. There will be ample opportunities over the course of the semester for you to share your thoughts, your ideas, and your dreams with the task force as part of this important effort.
We have prepared for the fall in every way we know how – testing every student for COVID-19 before they return to campus, in addition to all of the actions taken as part of the Protect Purdue Plan. That said, as Eric Barker, Dean of the College of Pharmacy, and Dr. Esteban Ramirez, Chief Medical Officer for the Protect Purdue Health Center, constantly remind us, campus health this fall will ultimately depend on some simple practices: wearing masks/appropriate PPE, washing your hands, maintaining a safe social distance, reporting symptoms, and staying off campus if ill. President Daniels has been clear on this point: our fall residential semester is anything but guaranteed, and whether or not we are able to complete our semester on campus will depend on each of us making these simple practices part of our everyday routine as we learn to live and work with COVID-19.
Many do not believe we can have a safe residential fall. They say we will revert to remote instruction before Thanksgiving. Other institutions have already tried and failed in their attempt to have students on campus. I believe we can prove these voices wrong, that we can give our students an engaging residential experience while protecting the health of the Purdue community. I believe in this place and the people of Purdue. I believe in all of the preparations that have been made by so many. Perhaps most importantly, I believe in the mission of this University – the life-changing impact of a Purdue education, the world-changing impact of the research and engagement that happens here every day. I believe that we can embrace this moment, that together we can deliver on our mission during this most challenging time, that we can complete our residential fall semester safely. Doing so means we all must learn to do things differently to protect ourselves, protect each other, protect Purdue.
I thank you in advance for your patience and support as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and adjust our plans accordingly. I thank you in advance for all you will do personally to ensure we have a safe and successful fall 2020 semester – one that clearly will be like no other.
Stay safe and well,