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May 18, 2020 – Working toward our goals for the fall

Posted by on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Community Messages.

Dear Vanderbilt students and families,

Wherever this note finds you, I hope that you are doing well. At times like these, our Vanderbilt values of open inquiry, equality, compassion and excellence in all endeavors are more important than ever. Please know that I am thinking about all of our undergraduate community, including our newest members, the incoming Class of 2024.

I am writing to share our priorities and hopes for our new and returning students as we continue in-depth planning for the fall semester.

Together, we must acknowledge that many unknowns remain at this moment. However, I assure you that, as we move forward, we will always be guided by two commitments—offering an excellent education to each and every Vanderbilt student and providing to the best extent possible for the health and well-being of everyone in our campus community. Our goal is to resume on-campus, in-person teaching as soon as possible, based on public health status and safety protocols.

We are incredibly fortunate to have our close partnership with Vanderbilt University Medical Center to guide these efforts. VUMC is home to some of the nation’s and the world’s foremost experts in coronaviruses, pulmonary care, vaccine development and public health modeling, and VUMC’s Dr. Alex Jahangir is chair of Nashville’s Coronavirus Task Force. These Vanderbilt experts are leading the way on antiviral and antibody research and treatments, and their guidance is at the center of our planning with regard to the measures that must be taken to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

With robust planning and action, I sincerely hope that we will soon be able to reconnect in classrooms and across our residential living-learning community. Because of the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, a definitive decision or timeframe cannot be announced at this precise moment. However, Incoming Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and I will communicate with you as soon as we have reached a firm decision on updates regarding all aspects of the fall semester at Vanderbilt.

As some of you learned during our first virtual town hall last Wednesday, Vanderbilt has created a strategic Return to Campus Plan to ensure that we return to campus in a thoughtful and measured way that will also uphold our mission of learning, research and discovery.

Throughout the Vanderbilt Return to Campus Plan, we prioritize the ramp-up of activities that support this mission, including on-campus education, research and residential living and learning. It is no coincidence that our undergraduate students are at the heart of these mission-driven activities; you are central to our pre-eminence as a leading research university. Supporting you—academically, socially and emotionally—drives everything we do. Both Incoming Chancellor Diermeier and I understand how eager you all are to be together on campus. We are working tirelessly to achieve that goal and to find new ways to enrich your Vanderbilt experience.

We have been working on several new programs and resources with you in mind.

  • To resume on-campus activities, we are actively developing protocols for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, positive case and symptom management and other health-based protective measures. In the best-case scenario of holding in-person classes for the fall, we anticipate that physical distancing, face masks/coverings and other health protocols will be necessary. We will be asking for all members of our community to partner in adopting these protocols, as well as others that may prove necessary. We also are currently assessing all of our campus spaces to make sure that classes and other activities can be held in locations that support recommendations from our public health experts. In addition, we are developing comprehensive signage and circulation systems to enable safe distancing across our campus pathways and outdoor spaces.
  • Launching this summer, our Campus Connection Program will provide all undergraduate students with personalized guidance for campus services and experiential learning. Professional staff members, overseen by Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of Residential Faculty Vanessa Beasley, will serve as student “connectors” and will work in addition to academic advisers to provide students with resources and opportunities to reach their goals while at Vanderbilt.
  • We also are providing support through our mental health and wellness resources. In addition to virtual and phone counseling sessions through the University Counseling Center, Vanderbilt students have access to digital services such as SilverCloud and the WellTrack app.
  • Finally, we are carefully assessing Vanderbilt’s on-campus residences and our strategies for supporting student life. We will be in touch soon with a request for your thoughts and feedback as we clarify the different options surrounding this important topic.

All of these efforts strengthen my confidence that we will be ready for a variety of scenarios for the fall semester. Importantly, although start dates, end dates and breaks may be different, we are dedicated to providing a 15-week academic calendar for all undergraduate degree programs, which I know is very important to our students. We are committed to providing a complete and Vanderbilt-quality education across any scenario and despite these unusual circumstances.

In my video message to the Class of 2020, I shared a speech given by Vanderbilt Chancellor James Kirkland to open the 1930–31 school year, amid the hardship of depression and drought. Chancellor Kirkland reassured students that “completing the educational process is the most permanent investment I know of.” Though our fall semester will look very different from any other time in our history, what won’t change is the rigor, excellence and collegial spirit that mark and have always marked the Vanderbilt experience. The experiences, and the intelligence, aspirations and creativity that you bring to our community are more important than ever.

Over the next weeks and summer months, I hope you will continue to stay engaged and connected. We have several extensive and frequently updated online resources, including our Coronavirus FAQ pages and the new Return to Campus website. And, we are eager to hear from you. I encourage you to submit questions and suggestions through the Vanderbilt Coronavirus FAQ website at any time.

Thank you again for your continued patience, flexibility and partnership as we navigate these unprecedented challenges. I look forward to being in touch again soon.

Sincerely,

Susan R. Wente

Interim Chancellor and Provost

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