Mar. 10, 2020 – Important information about university’s response to COVID-19
Dear Vanderbilt Community,
Much has happened in the last 24 hours regarding the preventive measures we are taking on Vanderbilt’s campus to limit any potential impact of COVID-19. I want you to know that my top priority as the university’s leader is to ensure the well-being of all members of our community.
We are rapidly making some tough—indeed, unprecedented—decisions in consultation with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, federal, state and local public health experts as well as with campus constituents. Many incredible individuals across the university are working tirelessly to safeguard all on campus and to ensure the continued pursuit of our mission of education and research under these challenging circumstances.
Our actions reflect current best practices to limit possible exposure for students, faculty and staff who work alongside one another on our residential campus. Overall, our decisions are similar to those of many other universities of our size and with our global reach.
It is important to note that we are taking steps based upon the facts we have at hand. Given the unpredictable nature reported for COVID-19, the timing of implementing preventive steps is not an exact science. We are continually monitoring the situation and will update university guidelines with all new information.
The intent of all of my decisions, and of the university’s actions, will always be to ensure the safety of our community, and to act within reason based on facts, careful deliberation, and the best recommendations of official sources.
While vigilance and caution are indeed warranted right now, I want to reassure all that our campus remains quite safe. I am confident that if we continue with the responsible actions taken by so many in our community, we will continue to protect ourselves, our colleagues, our students and our loved ones from harm’s way.
To reiterate some important facts:
- There are no positive cases of COVID-19 reported on campus and there has been no evidence of significant community spread in the Middle Tennessee region;
- Vanderbilt’s campus is open, and we are focused on providing a supportive, safe environment. Remaining in residential campus housing during class cancellation and suspension of in-person classes is currently each individual student’s decision depending upon their personal situation;
- Preventive measures such as washing hands, extra cleaning of public areas and practicing social distancing are effective safeguards against contracting or spreading the disease;
- The university continues to take multiple actions in alignment with public health guidelines to keep the university healthy and prevent the spread of illness. These actions include:
- Twice-a-day cleaning of high-touch areas, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, etc.
- Installation of additional free-standing hand sanitizing stations across campus
- Disinfected childcare centers and other high-touch university facilities
Key topics for students and families, faculty and staff
To students and their families: I understand the stress and disappointment in having changes made to when and how classes are held and the cancellation of university events and gatherings. Vanderbilt housing and dining halls remain open, as do libraries, study spaces and other parts of the university. All of these spaces are being cleaned twice daily, as detailed above, to prevent the spread of infection.
With regard to coursework, faculty will have a wide range of ways to continue substantive communication and meaningful instruction, including many within Brightspace such as live class sessions through video conference tools, screencasting, discussion groups and discussion boards. Each professor will choose the methods that are the best option for the specific class. Be assured that they are all working hard to do this well. Please monitor your Vanderbilt email address as well as your course webpage for details.
To faculty: I appreciate your continued commitment to the university and your work to move swiftly this week in making alternate arrangements for educating students, including bringing course material online. I also know that the cancellation of university events and gatherings, as well as travel restrictions, are challenging for continuing your scholarship and am grateful for your patience.
I understand that you have many additional questions in relation to your courses for the rest of the semester as well as your own research and planning; I encourage you to work directly with your dean, who in turn is working with their colleagues across the university on these topics.
To staff: I am incredibly confident that your efforts and your critical work will keep our campus and our university operating and moving forward. I am committed to ensuring you are supported. We are working with staff leadership across the university to ensure you receive clear information related to both your work and your safety, and to ensure you have the resources you need during this unprecedented time.
I encourage all staff to speak directly with their managers regarding any questions; managers should elevate any questions needing additional information to their departmental or divisional leadership.
Stay informed via the university’s COVID-19 website, and reach out with any and all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How is the university reaching its decisions on next steps?
In support of my core commitment to transparency, I also want to give you some further insight into how the university leadership team arrived at its most recent actions and how I will continue to assess decisions to be made on any next steps.
In our preparation and planning since January, we have continually reviewed the guidance from the CDC, the Tennessee Department of Health and our colleagues at VUMC. This guidance changes daily and is local in nature. As part of this, we determined multiple triggering events for changing our campus activities, including notice of community spread in Middle Tennessee and/or a positive case on campus amongst our faculty, staff, or students.
As we all know, Vanderbilt’s academic calendar resulted in an unusually early spring break this year compared to our peers. When our break started on February 29, no positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in Tennessee. The first case was reported in Nashville on Thursday March 5, with two more on Sunday March 8, but there were no indications of community spread. Thus, we made the decision to have students return from spring break based on the facts at that time.
The triggering event happened on Monday March 9 during our first day of classes after break. As I shared that day, several students returned to campus and then learned on Monday March 9 that they were exposed over break to an individual who tested positive. We moved immediately to the first step of our preventive actions and canceled classes for the week, and initiating the planning and move for suspension of in-person classes and providing alternative learning options.
I’m sure we have all been reminding ourselves that this too shall pass. And, it will do so because we trust each other and we are working together. Although this is an unprecedented challenge, I am confident that we are well prepared to find solutions and to address fully any further decisions that lie ahead. Again, my thanks for the partnership and leadership of all in our Vanderbilt community.
Susan R. Wente
Interim Chancellor and Provost