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Important COVID-19 Updates for Faculty and Staff

Dear faculty and staff,

UT System Interim President Randy Boyd, in consultation with chancellors across all UT campuses, made the decision today to keep classes online through the end of the semester and cancel all events, including commencement.

These are difficult decisions that we did not make lightly. Our graduates were looking forward to commencement with their families; our other students wanted to finish the year together on campus; and all of you, our faculty and staff, put tremendous time and effort into your curriculum and your work to support our mission.

Provost Manderscheid and I met with the academic deans this morning about this decision. I am deeply grateful for their leadership, commitment, and proactive ideas.

I know this is a burden for all of our faculty and staff as you continue to transition your work to virtual classrooms and make extraordinary logistical adjustments. It fills me with pride to see you offering to help one another with technology, share resources, and support our students.

We remain dedicated to our students’ success and making sure that all students receive credit for their courses, that they graduate on time, and that we celebrate those graduations, even if it can’t be in person.

As of this message, we do not yet have a confirmed case of COVID-19 on our campus. We know it is only a matter of time before that changes.

For most of us, COVID-19 will be like getting the flu or a cold—if we even have symptoms at all. But the precautions we are taking are not for the healthiest among us. They are about protecting our most vulnerable—our parents and grandparents, our friends and colleagues with underlying health concerns, our small children who may not have a robust immune system.

It is critical that we continue social distancing off campus as well. Please refrain from gathering with friends and large groups, avoid public spaces as much as possible, and keep yourself healthy so that we can keep our community healthy.

What we do in the coming weeks and months will define us forever. This is an opportunity to show what it truly means to be a Volunteer—to make sacrifices for the greater good, to shadow ourselves and give light to others.

I know you will rise to this moment. I’ve already seen you offering to help colleagues with technology; reaching out to students, even if they aren’t yours; and overcoming logistical challenges.

Today’s decision to stay online through the spring semester and reimagine spring commencement was hard. There may be more difficult decisions ahead, but we are committed to our Volunteer principles and leading with courage—especially when it’s hard: We will remember this moment for the rest of our lives. We will tell future generations how we responded—and when we do, we will recall this moment as Rocky Top’s finest hour.

  • Keep our community healthy and hopeful.
  • Keep our students on track toward success.
  • Be creative. Be compassionate. Be flexible.

Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other.

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Donde Plowman