May 1, 2020
A letter to the IU Bloomington community regarding the scenarios in which the IU Bloomington campus will physically reopen, the committees tasked with assessing processes for doing so, and an update on the CARES act.
Dear Indiana University Bloomington Community,
President McRobbie wrote this week to describe the university structure through which Indiana University will determine how to return to its campuses in light of the public health challenges we face. I write today to describe how the Bloomington campus is approaching this issue, and how our campus structure articulates with the university structure.
As the President noted, the Indiana University Restart Committee will take on the questions about the medical and public health constraints within which we can resume physical activities on the campus. The President was careful to note that no one could state unequivocally today, in light of CDC guidance, that there will be a complete return to normal operations in the fall. However, Indiana University’s Restart Committee is optimally positioned to take advantage of several critically important institutions to think both responsibly and creatively about these issues. First, Executive Vice President Jay Hess, who chairs the IU Restart Committee, is the dean of the IU School of Medicine, the largest medical school in the United States, and a leading medical research institution. Second, Indiana University Health, the state’s largest hospital system, is Indiana University’s partner in our work on mitigating the effects of the pandemic, and is represented both through Dean Hess, and through others on the committee. Third, the committee includes the deans of both of IU’s Schools of Public Health, who have been providing guidance to the state all along as it makes decisions about the pandemic. In addition, the committee brings other important perspectives to bear, including that of Eli Lilly & Co., whose pharmaceutical expertise and worldwide operations provide another lens on these challenges.
The campus efforts I will describe take place not only within the context of the Restart Committee’s work, but also in a broader IU emergency structure—including the Executive Policy Group and the Emergency Operations Center—that has been exquisitely responsive to the pandemic since January. In addition, President McRobbie has chartered the Laboratory Research Committee to provide overall policy guidance to that important part of our mission, and the Academic Leadership Council continues to guide the academic mission. And it goes without saying that every administrative group at the university or on the campuses, whether it be the Office of International Affairs or the Office of Enrollment Management, is focused like a laser on solving the challenges this pandemic has caused, and working collaboratively with the rest of the university to do so.
At the campus level, I have chartered and charged 10 task force groups to execute the guidance we are receiving from the Restart Committee, with the goal of reclaiming as much of our in-person activities as quickly as is consistent with the guidance we are receiving and as creatively as possible. Our campus is like a small city, with tens of thousands of people engaged in diverse activities ranging from classroom teaching to laboratory research to dramatic performance to academic advising to maintenance of our academic buildings. Assuming that some forms of extreme attention to hygiene, physical distancing, and other measures to reduce density and exposure will remain in effect, the groups are charged with thinking past our normal calendars, class lengths, class times, class days, understandings of attendance routines, modules, physical spaces, and any other aspect of the way in which we perform our work to provide plans to bring us back to campus as soon and as completely as we are confidently able to do so.
We recognize that some students will not be able to join us at what would have been the typical start of the semester, either because they are overseas and the normal operations of embassies issuing visas are disrupted, or because they are dealing with medical conditions or other situations that would prevent even the most careful presence on campus. Some of the groups, therefore, are charged with ensuring that we are able to provide instruction and student services even to those whose return to campus could be delayed. One of the groups is devoted to special issues of instruction—those areas like art studios, orchestras and other group musical instruction, theatre and dance, laboratories, and clinical instruction—that pose special challenges under conditions of physical distancing.
Other groups are looking at mitigating the effects on those auxiliary units that support the entire campus, such as the Indiana Memorial Union, Residential Programs and Services, and others. A group is looking at the experience of working remotely, and ways in which we can continue to keep the density of the campus down by providing additional support to those who could continue to work from home. That group is also looking at how to accommodate different populations in our faculty and staff that might need other kinds of accommodation. Other groups are looking at research, finance, and particular aspects of our programming that have been affected by the disruption on campus, such as pre-college programs, which are important to our enrollment pipeline and to K-12 students whose education has also been disrupted.
We all understand that our entire community wants advice and certainty to aid in planning our lives. I feel a great deal of confidence that the best scientific minds in the world and at our university are focused on how to treat and mitigate the effects of the virus and to resume operations as creatively and flexibly as possible. I have no doubt that we will all be asked to continue to do our ordinary work in extraordinary ways, and under conditions we would have thought preposterous only a few months ago. However, I am confident we will solve this, although it is about as hard a Rubik’s Cube as we have ever, collectively, taken on, in a way that allows us to move our mission forward. That mission is too important—to our community, our state, and our world—to do otherwise.
Finally, I want to report that as of this week, our campus has received, through the federal CARES Act, $12 million in direct funding for our students to mitigate the financial effects on them from the disruption in our normal operations. While this funding is statutorily limited to those students who would be otherwise qualified to receive federal financial aid funds, we will use privately-donated funds to provide relief to students who would not otherwise qualify. Applications for this funding are being revised in light of guidance we have most recently received from the federal Department of Education, and you will always be able to find access to emergency funds applications and answers to your questions from the Division of Student Affairs.
As I write, this remarkable semester is at a close, and students are completing their final projects from thousands of points around the world. Our character and imagination has been tested in ways we could never have foreseen. But the spring in Bloomington is as beautiful as it has ever been in my many years here. My law students worked hard and thought well, even under these strange conditions. Our campus rallied to this challenge in beautiful and unexpected ways. We are virtually celebrating our graduates even as we plan to celebrate them in person when we can.
May we be together again soon.
With affection, gratitude, and resolve,
Provost, Indiana University Bloomington
Executive Vice President, Indiana University
Val Nolan Professor of Law