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Planning for a Phased Return to Campus

Dear faculty and staff,

I know many people are wondering when we will return to campus. We proceeded with care when we moved to telecommuting last month. Over the course of the summer, we will return to campus in exactly the same manner—with care and guidance from experts at the university, the CDC, and state and local health departments.

As parts of our economy begin a phased reopening across Tennessee, my leadership team and I are planning for how we can safely begin bringing employees back to campus in a phased approach. Employees should not return to campus before coordinating with their department or unit leaders, who will be working with us to plan the phases of return throughout the summer.

Our goals are to protect our employees and our community while taking the steps within our control to make it more likely that students can return to campus safely this fall semester.

Phased Return

We are planning for a three-phase return over the next few months, which is documented on our website. We will continue to keep everyone informed through email and updates to as we make deliberate decisions about each phase of the return.

Efforts are under way to begin cleaning and preparing campus. Employees currently on campus doing this work are being provided with personal protective equipment, extensive training on CDC protocols, and other measures to ensure their safety.

The first phase of return begins May 11, following the conclusion of spring semester. During this initial phase, we will prioritize bringing back some people who cannot accomplish their primary jobs effectively at home. The majority of our community will continue to work from home during Phase 1.

Consistent with the guidelines Governor Bill Lee has announced for state employees, Phase 1 will be limited in scope and will not end before May 29 for UT Knoxville employees. As we successfully complete each phase and account for the latest public health information, we will announce guidelines for the next phase.

Next Steps

Provost David Manderscheid and Senior Vice Chancellor Chris Cimino will communicate specific guidance to deans, directors, and department heads about planning for Phase 1. This guidance will be posted on Additionally, Interim Vice Chancellor Matthew Mench will continue to develop and adjust guidelines for research activities and maintain direct communication with researchers.

The plans that result from these guidelines will help us return to campus gradually, with our highest priority being protecting the health and safety of all our employees.

The Re-Imagining Fall Task Force is working now to develop creative plans for how we want our campus community to look and act in this new normal, and how we will carry out our mission while prioritizing the safety and success of our students and employees.

Social distancing remains a critical method of protection against further spread of COVID-19. When we return to campus—and when students return—measures for social distancing, face coverings, and additional protections will likely be in place.

Our Volunteer Values

We must all recognize that there are vulnerable members of our campus community, as well as many families with children at home to care for and other important needs to attend to during this time. We remain committed to working with our employees and using our Volunteer values for leading with courage:

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

I will host a webinar Wednesday, May 6, at 1:30 p.m. to present our plans and discuss a safe and productive return to campus.

Thank you for all you are doing.

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Donde Plowman