In an email to University of Vermont students, faculty and staff Wednesday morning, UVM president Dr. Suresh Garimella wrote that he’s now confident the university will resume in-person instruction this fall.
He said he has this confidence for several reasons. Besides speaking with Vermont state officials and with administrators on other campuses, UVM has consulted its own public health experts at the Larner College of Medicine and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. The university has also been deeply involved in scenario planning for a possible second wave of the coronavirus.
However, Garimella said that exactly when UVM would return to in-person status, and just how a re-opened campus would look, are still to be determined. “No one expects us to go ‘back to normal’, right? It’s not as if, when we say we’re going to open in the fall to on-campus education, it’s going to be the same as last fall,” he said.
He also acknowledged that the campus will need more COVID-19 testing, more contact tracing and new operating procedures if it’s going to re-open. “We fully expect that our residence halls, our dining halls, our classrooms, will all have to go through different sets of protocols,” Garimella said.
The UVMStrong — Fall 2020 Advisory Committee is looking right now into what those new protocols for testing, tracing and general operations might be. The group has subcommittees dedicated to five different aspects of the university — faculty and academic affairs, research and graduate education, human resource services, business and institutional continuity, and — as Garimella pointed out — the student experience. “Athletics — can you have basketball games with 3,000 people? It seems extremely unlikely to me that it’ll be the same as it was,” he said.
Garimella added that, in his words, UVM is not an island; he said it will only re-open if it’s allowed to do so. “We are part of the community,” he said. “We’re part of the state. We’re part of the city (of Burlington). I know Mayor (Miro) Weinberger is thinking about this carefully, so anything we do will be done in concert with our partners around the state so that we don’t have our own set of rules.”
The advisory committee has been asked to provide preliminary recommendations in May about a path forward for the fall.