July 21, 2020

Dear UAF staff and faculty,

In my communication to campus last week, I mentioned that UAF’s approach to the fall semester has been between what the UA system had defined as Phase B and Phase C operations. Just like the pandemic, the system guidance has evolved, and the definitions of Phase B and Phase C have changed. UAF’s current planning approach, which includes some student residency and a mix of distance and in-person classes, is now consistent with the new Phase B definition in the UA On-site Operations Plan. This means we no longer need to be in Phase C to operate the way we have been planning for fall.

Along those lines, faculty should plan to offer their courses in a manner that they feel adequately meets learning outcomes for their students. While many faculty are moving their courses online or to distance delivery, others are requesting to teach face-to-face, and others plan to use a hybrid model. Whichever way you choose to teach this fall, I encourage you to do your best to keep your approach adaptable as there are many twists and turns yet to come with the pandemic. Although UAA is also in Phase B, its model will be somewhat different than UAF’s, as they intend to offer courses mainly online. I fully support UAA’s approach and appreciate the UA system’s recognition of the need to operate using different models.

UAF students are enrolling in large numbers for fall. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. We are committed to providing access to education, and our approach this coming fall will offer our students what they are asking for. At the same time, it is up to all of us to provide a safe living and working environment for everyone. I appreciate your continued commitment to that and to taking the appropriate safety precautions to combat COVID-19.

I will be releasing a new COVID-19 face covering policy this Wednesday. The policy requires all UAF staff, faculty, students, vendors, contractors, visitors and community members over the age of 5 to wear a face covering indoors, unless specifically exempted, and outdoors where 6 foot distancing is not possible. Face coverings include but are not limited to face masks (reusable or disposable), face shields, bandanas and scarves. Face coverings must cover the nose and mouth, and tie around the ears or the back of the head. This policy is being implemented to help ensure the safety of all campus users by reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread.

To support this policy, UAF will provide every student, staff and faculty member with a UAF-branded reusable face covering that will be available in mid-August. Disposable masks will be available at various campus locations for individuals who arrive on campus without one. Face shields have been ordered for faculty who will be teaching in person.

Another policy in the final stages of development is a student COVID-19 testing policy. This is being developed by the UA system Incident Management Team and outlines specific testing protocols for students who live in the residence halls.

Dr. Tom Hennessy, a retired CDC epidemiologist and consultant to the University of Alaska, has advised against large-scale testing or collection of detailed health screening data and, instead, working with students in a model of social responsibility. Testing and screening are only snapshots of the specific day and time they are taken. Negative test results have also been shown to give a false sense of security. That is, if a student engages in risky activity but tests negative, it reinforces the idea that such behavior is low-risk. By focusing on social responsibility, however, we help reduce the rate of infection by creating a culture of safety, safe practices and responsibility for each other.

Dr. Hennessy’s advice is helping inform UAF’s approach for fall. While students in residence halls and those coming from out of state will be required to test for COVID-19, our greatest prevention method will be through education, personal responsibility and taking care of our community. In that vein, all residential students will be required to sign a social compact, and nonresidential students will be asked to sign on to a social pledge. Although the promises are slightly different, both of them ask students to agree to do their part to keep themselves and those around them healthy and safe. All of our safety and their education depend on it.

On a final note, I wanted to thank the UAF Incident Management Team for doing a tremendous amount of work since March as we successfully transitioned the university from in-person classes to online and distance delivery. This work included planning to move from Phase A to Phase B and preparation for Phase C. It also included planning for summer activities and fall classes.

The COVID-19 situation continues to evolve and we continue to adapt. To keep UAF’s planning efforts moving quickly and to ensure we are integrated with operations across campus, I’m transitioning the IMT from an incident management team to an operations support team, or OST. This team is working closely with vice chancellors to operationalize safety planning for the fall opening.

I will continue to send my weekly Tuesday communication with updates from the OST. As you have questions, please ask them. Consult with your dean or director, vice chancellor, or me as we come together for fall.

Thank you for the work you are doing to provide access to education for our students.

Thank you for choosing UAF!

— Dan White, chancellor

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