Dear Members of the University Community:
I am writing to you today to share the latest decisions that the University of Pittsburgh is making in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. To start, I want to emphasize a few obvious points that are nonetheless important: This is an unprecedented scenario for U.S. universities. It is a situation that is changing dramatically—and daily. Compounding this scenario are substantial unknowns about the virus, its spread and its potential to impact everyone. This high degree of uncertainty makes planning difficult.
Our guiding principles in navigating this challenge have been to take all the necessary steps to minimize risk to our university community while seeking to continue our primary mission of educating, performing vital research and serving the local community.
The pandemic has already forced us to take a number of proactive steps. These include recalling students, faculty and staff from hard hit parts of the world; canceling study abroad programs; canceling or postponing certain events; expanding public health communication; and enhancing cleaning efforts to minimize potential exposure.
A university campus is an intensely social environment that, by design, supports close interactions and large group gatherings. While there are no confirmed cases on or near a Pitt campus at this time, the number of confirmed infections is growing in multiple states across the country. This reality—coupled with the fact that most of our undergraduate students are traveling during spring break—significantly heightens our risk of resuming normal academic activities. As a result, we must act to stave off the even greater risks associated with bringing everyone back together on our campuses.
The steps that we are now taking include:
- Replacing in-person instruction with online and alternative learning options at all five Pitt campuses.
- Requesting that students not return to University housing, if they have this option.
- Canceling all study abroad and study away programming for the spring and summer terms.
- Restricting all nonessential domestic and international university travel until further notice.
- Canceling or postponing all events that exceed 25 participants or that are considered nonessential. When possible, we will seek to replace in-person events with virtual engagements.
- Expanding work flexibility to allow remote work arrangements, when needed.
To prepare for this transition and give our faculty time to contact students directly, we are postponing the start of classes to Monday, March 23, 2020.
These changes, which will be effective through the end of the current semester, mean that distance learning strategies will replace all face-to-face classes in satisfying the academic requirements toward a student’s degree. As a result, there is no immediate need for most undergraduate students to return to campus after spring break concludes.
These changes also apply to graduate and professional students. However, because practicum and research-based learning is central to this population’s academic experience, the exact modifications enacted will vary by school, program and student.
In the coming days, all students, faculty and staff can expect to receive more information about this new academic landscape. As a reminder: Information about the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is available on our Public Safety and Emergency Management website, which will continue serving as our one-stop information hub for University-approved updates on this issue.
It’s important to note that this approach does not affect the status of our campus facilities. All campuses will remain open and operational, and all research and essential graduate and postgraduate work will continue. We will also continue to provide student services, including room and board, to students who cannot return home.
I realize that this is an unexpected and dramatic development. However, based on what we currently know—and still don’t know—about the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that these new steps are necessary to strike a prudent balance between protecting our community and continuing our academic mission.
Given the scale of this pandemic, I also believe that additional steps will be necessary as the situation evolves. Please continue to check Pitt’s website and read all University updates. On our end, we will continue to make every effort to share the latest information and answer your questions as quickly as possible.
Finally, let me end on a note of appreciation and optimism. While this is uncharted territory for Pitt and many other academic institutions, our community has already demonstrated remarkable resiliency and flexibility in the face in this pandemic. I am confident that these strengths will continue to guide us in the days to come—and the challenges and successes that lie ahead.
Thank you, in advance, for your understanding and patience as we navigate these changes together.