Now that an unprecedented Spring semester has come to a successful conclusion, I send this message to provide some additional information about our plans for the future. While that future remains uncertain, I am confident that we are taking the necessary steps to fulfill our mission, notwithstanding the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday afternoon, Governor Holcomb issued an executive order that outlined his plan to reopen Indiana’s economy, while continuing to protect the health and safety of the state’s citizens and visitors. In his order, the Governor reduced some of the restrictions that had previously been imposed to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Consistent with the Governor’s order, our objective is to prepare to resume appropriate in-person academic activities and many campus operations for the Fall semester, but within the context of the current public health crisis. It is our intention at that time to enroll a full complement of undergraduate and graduate students and to continue to provide them with an outstanding education. I anticipate that, over time, we will eventually resume almost all of our traditional teaching, learning, and co-curricular experiences.
The questions, though, are about pace, planning, and protections. In answering these critical questions, we will be prudent and innovative—and committed to our mission.
With respect to pace, we will proceed in three phases:
- Between now and May 31, I do not anticipate any material changes to the current work assignments. That is, faculty and staff who are presently working remotely will continue to do so, unless they are expressly authorized and directed to report to campus by their vice presidents to perform a critical task. For employees who are presently assigned to work on campus, please continue to follow the directions of your supervisors. And thank you very much for your valuable service.
- Beginning June 1, a small number of additional staff and perhaps some additional faculty may be permitted or assigned to return to campus. The decisions regarding those potential changes will be made by each vice president pursuant to guidelines that I will establish in accordance with guidance from state and local officials, as well as the input from our Taskforce on Recovery and the University’s Strategic Transition (TRUST), about which I will provide more information below.
- Beginning July 1, we will begin to resume many more campus activities and operations. In advance of that date, faculty and staff will receive more specific instructions from their respective vice presidents about when and how to return to work on campus, and our decisions will continue to be informed by guidance we receive from state and local officials, as well as the recommendations from TRUST.
In light of this schedule, we have already informed our incoming freshmen that our Summer orientation will be conducted “virtually” this year. Using a new social media product, our prospective students will be able to meet their future classmates by creating personal profiles and then connecting with other new students who have similar interests. Our new students will also be able to meet and speak with orientation leaders during online “group chats.”
Incoming freshmen will have “virtual” course registration appointments with our advisors, and the Office of Orientation will connect our new students with other staff who can assist them with becoming more familiar with campus life. We will also offer a variety of online engagement opportunities for the families of new freshmen.
These activities are vital during this unusual time. And I am grateful to our colleagues who have developed and will soon implement these innovative strategies.
Academic Planning Group
At Ball State, we provide a distinctive education for all of our students. In the quest for knowledge and greater understanding, our faculty are learning partners with our students in the classroom, in the labs, in the studios, and in our community. Those learning experiences are enhanced when students work collaboratively with each other to solve problems and to complete important assignments.
Online instruction is very effective for some courses and for some programs, and our prompt transition to remote learning this past semester enabled our students to complete their courses and make satisfactory progress toward their degrees. In order to fulfill our mission, though, we should continue to provide our students with in-person instruction and with experiential learning opportunities.
For these reasons, the Academic Planning Group has been actively examining a variety of scenarios that will enable us to resume on-campus teaching and learning in the Fall, with the appropriate modifications and adjustments. Because we must also be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances, the members of this task force are developing a range of contingency plans within each scenario for our comprehensive academic enterprise.
Next week, Provost Susana Rivera-Mills will provide specific guidance to faculty and staff within Academic Affairs, based on recommendations from the Academic Planning Group. That guidance will include more details about:
- Faculty designing courses so that they can easily transition from one modality to another;
- Administrators developing contingency plans to ensure that all courses can continue to be delivered effectively, irrespective of the potential adjustments that may be needed in the middle of the semester if the COVID-19 threat escalates next Fall;
- Academic advisors establishing effective alternative methods of communicating with our students and providing continuous support and guidance during these difficult times; and
- Academic support units developing alternative ways to provide effective tutoring, supplemental instruction, and success coaching.
Taskforce on Recovery and the University's Strategic Transition
In addition to our distinctive educational experiences, we are rightfully proud of our comprehensive portfolio of co-curricular programs and student organizations, our extensive array of informative and entertaining presentations, performances, and events, our outstanding facilities, and our beautiful campus. To fulfill our mission to our students and to the communities we serve, we are also developing plans to safely resume the other aspects of our campus operations.
As I shared with you two weeks ago, I have created a taskforce led by Sue Hodges Moore, our Chief Strategy Officer, to guide and coordinate our University’s transition to a safe and sustainable operating environment. TRUST is charged with providing recommendations regarding three major aspects of our planning processes: the safe transition of faculty and staff back to campus over the next few months; the safe return of our students back to campus in August; and maintaining a safe campus environment during the next academic year.
The 16 members of TRUST serve in a variety of leadership roles across all of the major divisions within the institution. They have a broad range of expertise, including: academic administration; student life; business operations; housing and dining services; libraries; facilities; health and safety; risk management; and athletics and events management. The task force is now organized into 15 “rapid response” teams that are assessing a wide variety of issues and challenges.
While drawing on their own experiences and knowledge, the members of TRUST are also consulting with other members of the campus community, with other universities and institutions, including IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, and with national public health authorities and experts. TRUST will provide us with specific guidance on various safety measures and precautions, including: social distancing and limits on the size of gatherings; extensive testing and prompt results; contact tracing and quarantining; regular cleaning and sanitizing of facilities; protective equipment for people and spaces; and travel restrictions.
As TRUST formulates its recommendations, I will share additional guidance with you. And in early June, I will provide the campus community with more comprehensive information about our transition to robust, yet safe campus activities and operations.
I fully appreciate that the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us through the Fall semester. We all must accept that some of the changes we have made in the last two months will be with us for some time to come. And we must tolerate continued uncertainty while embodying patience and persistence. That is the stark reality of our current predicament.
But this public health crisis cannot be allowed to thwart our vital mission: to empower our students to have fulfilling careers and meaningful lives and to enhance the vitality of the communities that we serve. To the contrary, our work is more important—and more impactful—than ever before. Our students need a premier education to prepare them for this dynamic economy and an ever-changing world, and our friends and neighbors need our support to surmount the social problems that will become more acute in the days and weeks ahead.
So, as we plan for the next academic year, let us pledge to honor our enduring values—especially innovation and courage. And let us embrace these unprecedented challenges with abiding optimism in a brighter future.
Thank you for your dedication and your determination. And thank you for giving me the privilege to serve as the president of this exceptional University.