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Bringing Our Community Back Together

Dear colleagues,

As we announced in March, we will resume full on-campus operations in fall 2021. Our Volunteer community has done an incredible job of supporting our students—and one another—throughout the pandemic. Thank you for continuing to put students first and for finding our way through this year with creativity, compassion, and flexibility. I could not be prouder of your efforts and all we accomplished under the strangest of circumstances.

Now that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility has been expanded to anyone over the age of 16, it is time to begin planning for everyone to return to campus. Staff should plan to return in person by June 1 to prepare for the resumption of in-person classes and services for students this fall.

After more than a year of working apart, it is exciting to know we are so close to being together again. This has been an isolating and difficult time for many of us, and I know many are longing for the connection and unplanned social interactions that happen when we are together. It can be hard to build community when we are physically separated, and experts suggest we have missed these moments and relationships even more than we recognize.

Long-term planning

As we begin planning for our return, I am asking each unit head to take what they’ve learned over the past year and assess the best way for their unit to operate over the long term. Decisions about alternative work solutions, including remote work, should be based on what is best for ensuring student success, delivering high-quality student and employee services, using campus space, and maximizing employee efficiency, effectiveness, and engagement. Changes to a unit’s prepandemic operations or staffing must be approved by the appropriate dean or vice chancellor in writing by May 10. In cases where alternative work schedules are approved, Human Resources will assist in documenting those arrangements and providing additional educational support.

We will share more comprehensive guidelines for returning to campus—including considerations for staffing plans—in coming days.

Health and wellness measures

Members of our campus community are encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. You can find information about vaccine offerings on campus, as well as a vaccine appointment locator tool for off-campus appointments, on the vaccine page of our website.

While the University of Tennessee does not require proof of vaccination, choosing not to be vaccinated will not exempt any employee from working on campus. Receiving the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, even if someone around you may not be vaccinated.

We will continue to listen to public health professionals and maintain necessary health precautions. That includes mask wearing until health authorities indicate it is no longer necessary. We also encourage members of our campus community to continue handwashing and use of hand sanitizer, not coming to work when ill, and self-monitoring symptoms. We will keep hand sanitizing stations across campus. While our goal is to bring the staff community back to campus, leaders should be mindful of social distancing guidelines, which may necessitate staggering staff for some period of time.

Accommodations

Requests for accommodations by staff will be handled through prepandemic procedures. Staff members who request a disability-related workplace accommodation relating to COVID-19 should contact the Office of Equity and Diversity (oed@utk.edu) to request an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I am grateful for all of you and the sacrifices you have made, the flexibility you’ve shown, and the support you have given to our students and our entire campus community. I am looking forward to bringing our community back together so we can once again experience the collaboration and energy that make our campus special.

Donde Plowman
Chancellor