Statement by USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman on Return-to-Campus and Return-to-Research Planning

Baltimore, Md. (May 26, 2020)

I know the Board is aware that in earlier public statements about our return-to-campus planning, I promised a bit more detail by the end of May. I imagine the Board is also aware that the end of May is, in fact, the end of this week.  

So this week we’ll get a first look at our institutions’ planning frameworks, the assumptions they’re operating under—knowing, of course, that assumptions are ephemeral. We expect them to change as pandemic conditions and our capacity for COVID detection and surveillance change. We’ll get an idea of our institutions’ target return dates and broad semester schedules, their plans to reduce campus density and appropriately distance students in their living and learning environments. We’ll see their early thinking about the mix of on-campus vs. remote students, and the mix of in-person vs. online courses. We anticipate a hybrid approach to instruction—face-to-face where optimal; remote where possible.

Plus, we’ll see how our universities plan to monitor student and employee health; how they’ll inhibit disease spread when a community member does fall ill. And I do mean “when.” We have to go into this planning with eyes wide open to the fact that we cannot—100 percent—prevent COVID from affecting our people; we will have cases on campus.

The USM doesn’t exist in a bubble. Our students, our faculty and staff don’t exist in a bubble. In a normal year, we’d have more than 150,000 people on our campuses. Taken together, that’s a small city. Assuming that city could be COVID-free—even applying our best prevention practices—is simply unrealistic. No epidemiological model supports that. So we must have solid plans in place to monitor health, to test when necessary, to treat the illness, to quarantine those who contract it, and to trace their contacts.

I must emphasize that what the universities will soon start sharing with students, families, faculty, and staff are their early plans—plans that we fully expect will change. This must be an iterative process, because there’s simply too much uncertainty still to set our plans in stone. And so what we put out—over the next few weeks—is merely a start.

At the System level, we’ll identify some commonalities and through-points we see among the plans. We’ll highlight some interesting perspectives and proposals. And we’ll continue working as hard as we have been—to layer these plans with more specificity; to apply new information, new best practices, and new approaches; to test our assumptions; and to build out our capacity to translate planning into action.

The Return to Campus Advisory Group will continue working with our institutions as their frameworks evolve. Our academic and administrative affinity groups—dozens of them Systemwide—will continue their collaborative planning. We’ll continue populating the platforms we’ve created for sharing questions, decision points, resources, and solutions.

And we’ll continue to learn from one another. If one university has a workable fix for a common challenge, that fix should spread. There is no pride of authorship here. I’ve said many times that our institutions can’t plan in lockstep with one another; their diversity—in students, size, type, geography—prevents it. But neither should they go it alone when they have the structure, the support, and the strength of this System to rely on. Strategic collaboration can—and will—make every institution’s plan better.

I look forward to sharing some more details about the institutions’ frameworks on Friday. That System-level announcement will then set the stage for the universities’ own communications with their students, families, and employees. We expect university-level communications to begin in June.

Before I conclude my report, I do want to update you on plans we’re undertaking to restart our research enterprise. You’ll recall that as we transitioned to remote learning for our students and telework for our employees, we significantly restricted research operations. Only critical, uninterruptable projects continued, along with those directly related to combating COVID-19.

But the fact remains that discovery is an essential mission of the USM. Last year, our institutions attracted $1.4 billion in research grants and contracts. Our University System is a national hub of research and innovation that tangibly improves every aspect of American daily life: our health, our well-being, our national and personal security, the safety and sustainability of our natural and built environments. And this R&D—the technologies that come out of it; the companies, the entire industries, born of it—are central to Maryland’s economic recovery and growth.

Working together, three of our research universities—the University of Maryland, College Park, UMB, and UMBC—are putting together a plan for the early stages of reopening our labs and resuming the research that this nation depends on. We’re in the planning stages now, preparing our labs for the return to research, and preparing our PIs, our research faculty, postdocs, grad students, and lab workers for a rigorous set of protocols that must be maintained if research is to resume. We believe the extensive protocols we’re developing for this comparatively small population of lab personnel could be enormously instructive as we plan to safeguard the health of our students, faculty, and staff returning to campus this fall.

I look forward to updating you on our “return to research” as we get further into the planning. Thank you.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719