Dear Members of the University Community:
Thank you for all that you’ve done during these last few months. We had just one week to prepare for a drastic swing in our operational status—and yet you made it happen, all while dealing with the countless disruptions that this pandemic has caused.
As evidence of your success: Last weekend, we came together (remotely, of course) to celebrate the members of the Class of 2020 and their many academic accomplishments at our first-ever virtual recognition ceremony. Reaching this finish line was a truly historic moment rooted in the extraordinary efforts of faculty and staff across all five Pitt campuses.
Now, we turn to preparing for the fall and planning for operations as government restrictions continue to evolve. The good news is that we have a month or so to plan for this juncture. The not-so-good news is that this next task—navigating multiple possible scenarios and significant uncertainty—will be more challenging than the herculean effort we just completed.
During this intense period of planning and preparation, our primary goal is to explore maximizing activities related to our core mission while still honoring our responsibilities to manage the spread of COVID-19. This work will hinge on a number of factors that are beyond our control—including what restrictions are in place and how many cases are occurring in the region. As a result, we will use multiple scenarios to develop our plans, and we will have to remain vigilant and flexible as we put these plans into practice.
Factors that our planning process must accommodate include:
- Mission and health: One core challenge that we face is to simultaneously advance two objectives: our mission activities of teaching, research and service and our responsibility to help control the spread of a very infectious disease. As a result, our planning process must consider solutions to specific pandemic-based scenarios. These scenarios include outbreaks where rates of infection are stable, decreasing or even rapidly increasing. The scenarios will also make specific assumptions about what resources, such as testing, may or may not be available.
- Risk management: Absent an effective vaccine or treatment, the coronavirus is part of our new normal. As the number of cases decrease and the government begins to relax its stringent restrictions, the responsibility to manage these risks shifts to us. We will continue creating and enacting our own protocols to help safeguard the well-being of our campus communities and the community at large, and our planning process is designed to inform these guidelines, procedures and restrictions.
- Localized guidance: The persistence of COVID-19 may impact different activities in different ways. For example, restrictions on large gatherings and on-site work arrangements may result in some activities happening on campus and other activities continuing remotely. Since work-site duties and roles vary widely across the University, we will be looking to campus leadership, your school or business unit and your supervisor to developed localized guidance as appropriate. In other words: What applies to you will probably depend on where you work and what you do.
- Adaptability: Thus far, our community has remained in sync, sheltering in place and navigating this difficult new landscape together. Our future plans must consider the very real possibility that conditions could improve or worsen over time and that government restrictions will change accordingly. Therefore, adaptability must be a central feature of our planning process.
- Creativity: The current circumstances are quite new in the modern life of our university. We know how to operate without COVID-19, and now we know—painfully!—how to operate amid an acute outbreak in our region. Moving forward, we must explore the uncharted territory between these two extremes. The early part of our planning process will focus on brainstorming novel ways of operating. Later, we must quickly shift to selecting the best options and preparing to carry them out.
This type of multiple scenario-based planning is remarkably complex, and I know that you have many questions. The health scenarios that will frame our planning are under development now. No later than early June, we will identify specific strategies to respond to each scenario and offer guidance so that faculty and staff can prepare for the year ahead. By early July, we will share explicit guidance with students and their families so that they can begin to make plans for the fall. Throughout the summer, we will continue to adjust and fine-tune our plans and update our communication to reflect the latest information and current status of the pandemic.
To manage the task ahead, Pitt’s senior vice chancellors are leading various activities designed to inform our teaching, research and staff functions. You can learn more about these efforts—and share your thoughts—online.
Again: Thank you for your continued patience, commitment and hard work. While the road ahead is undeniably difficult, I am confident that your creativity, dedication and dexterity will play key roles in elevating the University’s response to this remarkable challenge.
I intend to send additional updates as this planning process evolves. In the meantime, please stay healthy, stay home if you can, and take care of yourselves and your loved ones.