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Aug. 12, 2020 – A message to faculty on fulfilling our mission as we return to campus

Posted by on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 in Community Messages.

Dear faculty colleagues,

As we are welcoming more faculty, staff and students back to campus and preparing for the first days of classes and activities, we do so while facing one of the greatest challenges higher education has ever seen. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended nearly every aspect of how we teach, how we conduct research, how we collaborate. In just five short months, we have re-examined and adjusted all that we had relied upon in our professional and personal lives. And yet, we will come together, continue adjusting, embrace debate and discussion, and focus on how best to ensure we take care of one another while fulfilling our scholarly missions as a residential research university.

As we prepare to launch a semester that will be unlike any other, we are continually guided by three critical goals: to protect the health and safety of the Vanderbilt community as much as possible, to preserve the core of our academic mission, and to stimulate long-term progress so that we can emerge from the pandemic stronger and more united than ever before. You, our esteemed faculty, are integral to each of these goals.

When it comes to protecting our community, your engagement and partnership are paramount. We are looking to you to lead by example in adopting best practices and supporting students and staff to do the same. As new information, adjustments and priorities continue to emerge regarding the pandemic, we must stay united and mutually accountable. We are grateful that many faculty members across our colleges and schools are contributing to a range of working groups and providing constructive input through numerous forums to refine the strategies and operational models for the fall semester.

A total of nearly 7,000 people have been on campus at different times during Phases I and II of the university’s Return to Campus Plan. As noted in Monday’s Return to Campus Update, from June 29 to Aug. 4, there were 27 positive test cases among these nearly 7,000 individuals, and contact tracing revealed that none of the cases were contracted as the result of on-campus contact. Additionally, we have seen success with the return of select professional programs that began in July, including in-person classes for the M.D. program in the School of Medicine. We have been able to successfully proceed with our research ramp-up, pilot in-person classes and other campus operations by executing our health and safety protocols, which we will continue to do in the coming days and throughout Phase II+.

We recognize that we will continue to have positive cases among those engaged in on-campus activities, but we can minimize the number of cases by working together and adhering to campus health and safety protocols on campus and in our personal lives off campus: wearing face masks/coverings in public settings, maintaining 6 feet of physical distance, avoiding large gatherings, practicing good hand hygiene and monitoring for symptoms. Together we can slow the spread of COVID-19.

As mentioned in the provost’s letter to faculty on July 8, we are committed to finding and implementing adaptive solutions that will enable the faculty to teach and engage in scholarship, research and creative expression to the greatest extent possible.

Data and evidence-based approaches, workplace and environmental health protocols, and public health expertise must continue to serve as the core foundation for our decisions as a university. Thus, during this highly unusual pandemic situation, our normal shared governance processes have adjusted to take this into account. We are deeply grateful to the Faculty Senate and its Executive Committee for their leadership and partnership during this critical time. We remain as committed as ever to working with the senate, hearing your viewpoints, answering your questions and incorporating your feedback into decision-making. We look forward to the Fall Faculty Assembly and the first Faculty Senate meeting of the new academic year. We also will continue to co-host virtual town halls for our faculty covering a range of topics, and to capture and address your questions on the FAQ section of our Return to Campus website and/or through our new weekly updates about our Return to Campus Plan.

The pandemic is an enormous challenge that none of us anticipated and one for which we never would have hoped. And yet, it carries enormous opportunities for innovation, expansion and personal growth—as a university and as scholars, teachers and artists. Our faculty understand—perhaps better than anyone—the hard work that goes into shaping our aspirations, and the power our vision can have once fully realized. At this pivotal time in history, each one of us must be prepared to step up and do our part. Now is our time to set an example for our community.

Thank you again for all that you do.


Daniel Diermeier

Susan R. Wente
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs