Dear Colleagues –
In this month’s edition of the Open Dore newsletter, we hear from Padma Raghavan, Vice Provost for Research, on how the research community has continued to innovate during this challenging time and are leading the way as we begin our Return to Campus Plan.
Researchers across the university will pilot our phased approach and carry the responsibility of setting an example for the rest of our community that will inform our processes and protocols in the coming months. I’m certain they will create a strong base for us as we return to campus and stand together as One Vanderbilt.
The Open Dore will take its annual summer break for the next two months. I look forward to reconnecting through this newsletter in the fall.
Susan R. Wente
Interim Chancellor and Provost
Leading Through Research by Padma Raghavan
Over the past few months, COVID-19 has changed countless aspects of our lives. Social distancing has separated us physically from each other and from our campus, complicating the interactions that are key to driving our creativity and strengthening our sense of unity and trust as a community. However, our Vanderbilt researchers have risen to the occasion by finding new ways to keep forging ahead: sharing their expertise to help individuals and families through this crisis through Ask an Expert, shaping the national dialogue on the potential political impacts of COVID-19 on voters and partnering with VUMC to fight the pandemic head-on with such innovations as the new Commodore Open Source Ventilator that was featured in One World: Together at Home. With steadfast focus on the future, VU faculty have developed since March 393 new research proposals across a range of topics from COVID-19 prognosis to Renaissance art and launched 130 projects supported by new awards while our research administrators are hard at work on gradually transitioning to the new Vanderbilt electronic research administration system (VERA) as outlined in the recent myVU story and Faculty Senate blog post.
This intense productivity while working remotely demonstrates our commitment to lead through research. Nevertheless, many of you have expressed your rapidly escalating need to return safely to campus to those research activities that you cannot undertake otherwise. This is why we began this week the phased ramp-up of on-campus research activities nested within the broader phased ramp-up of on-campus university activities as outlined in Interim Chancellor Wente’s May 7 message. These plans were guided by our core values as a university, including the safety of our community, excellence and leadership in research and education, faculty governance and inclusion of the full diversity of VU research and scholarship.
The 4-Phase Research Ramp-Up Plans and resources we shared on May 8 were developed in collaboration with the deans, the Vice Chancellor for Administration and the VUMC Executive Vice President for Research. In particular, I want to thank Richard Chotard, Peter Cummings, Andrea George, Ellen Goldring, Jane Hirtle, Duco Jansen, Amber Pursley, Chuck Sanders, Mark Wallace and David Wright. Their good judgment, tireless work and courage to engage in honest dialogue brought our research community to Phase I. I am grateful to them not only for the work they have done but the work they have committed to continue doing in collaboration with all our 10 schools and colleges, the Vanderbilt University Research Council, the Public Health Advisory Task Force and the University Continuity Working Groups to keep research at Vanderbilt moving forward. Together, we will continue to refine our plans by seeking ways to support those activities that are by their very nature particularly difficult to navigate safely in the COVID-19 environment such as field research outside our campus, visits to archives and special collections and non-clinical human subjects research that necessitates in-person engagement.
Fewer than 24 hours after my May 8 email was delivered, lead researchers began submitting carefully prepared Phase I intake form proposals. We were impressed by their attention to detail and thoughtfulness, as it shows their commitment not only to leading with research, but also leading the effort to protect our community from COVID-19. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the associate deans for research who reviewed and approved 150 intake forms, Associate Vice Chancellor Mike Perez, the facilities staff who prepared 24 different buildings according to the Return to Campus plans for safe circulation and my staff who coordinated these efforts,1,000 faculty, staff and graduate students were given the green light to implement their approved plans and began returning safely to campus this week to engage in research activities. New intake form proposals are still being submitted daily and all the aforementioned team members continue to work day and night to support our research community through Phase I ramp-up.
We will not return to the same campus we left in early March. While we will enjoy seeing bright spring blooms and lush foliage on our grand trees, we will no doubt miss the energy of our familiar buildings and walkways crowded with zigzagging pedestrians. We will have changed too, walking around with face masks and waving hello instead of shaking hands. However, we will be speaking and working together again, enjoying our beautiful campus again and hoping that we may yet safely welcome new students in the fall. With that shared hope, I ask all of you who will be the first return to campus in Phase I of our research ramp-up to exemplify the responsibility and care that will make our campus a safe and trusted space despite COVID-19. Our actions over these next few weeks will shape our future – let us continue to lead by example.
Vice Provost for Research
Professor of Computer Science and Computer Engineering
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