President Frenk addresses the reopening of campus

By News@TheU

President Frenk addresses the reopening of campus

By News@TheU
President Julio Frenk sent a message Tuesday morning outlining the University of Miami’s adaptive and responsive approach to resuming classes. View the video and read the text below.

Below, for your reference, is the full text of President Julio Frenk’s video message.

In four weeks, fall classes will begin at the University of Miami. I know that many of you are concerned, particularly as you hear news reports of record numbers of COVID-19 infections in South Florida.

Last week, we sent an update to the University community describing our fall plans. You can find the latest information at coronavirus.miami.edu. In the days and weeks to come, you will continue to receive detailed information specific to your return. Today, I want to give you some insight not into the who, what, when, and where of our reopening, but into the why and how of our decisions.

Let me preface this by saying that, based on my 36 years of experience as a public health professional, the situation we face with respect to COVID-19 is serious. I know you are seeing reports of hospital bed shortages in Miami. Thanks to the tireless work of our health care heroes, that situation is not playing out at our University of Miami Health System.

While the situation remains fluid, UHealth has not been overwhelmed at any point of the pandemic. From the outset, we made the necessary provisions, so that, despite the spike in cases in Miami, we have enough capacity in terms of hospital beds, medicines, and equipment. Furthermore, we have the flexibility to convert beds in other units to treat additional COVID patients, should it become necessary.

On the academic side of our mission, providing an exceptional educational experience is the why of our decisions, and the same flexibility I just described as key to our success at UHealth is the how. Our approach can best be described as an adaptive and responsive strategy.

‘Adaptive’ reflects our need to be nimble, acknowledging that many of the forces driving the pandemic are beyond our control. It is our outward-looking stance toward matters like policy decisions by government and human behavior off campus.

‘Responsive’ recognizes the fact that people have different needs, to which we must respond. For instance, individuals vary in their health status and in their tolerance for uncertainty. Our strategy acknowledges those differences and provides a reasonable set of options to accommodate them.

The choice before us is not a binary one—keep campus closed or just open it. Instead, we must creatively devise intermediate solutions, which are both adaptive to the current circumstances and responsive to the varying needs of our students.

In that spirit, we are offering students a choice between two alternatives. The first one is fully remote learning for the fall semester. We have invested significant resources in technology and faculty training to provide an excellent instructional experience for students who decide to follow this path. To assure that everyone has enough time to make a reasoned decision, we have extended the deadline for students to opt into the fully remote learning option until July 27.

The second alternative offers students the opportunity to return to campus, but in a modified format, which involves important differences with respect to the way we used to deliver in-person education. We describe our approach as a hybrid protected model. ‘Hybrid’ means that instruction will offer a blend of in-person and virtual experiences. ‘Protected’ means that we will all have to follow a series of strict measures to provide a safe campus environment. I will explain those measures later.

As you can see, our approach rejects the false dichotomies of in-person versus remote learning, of protecting health versus advancing education, of high risk versus no risk. In this last regard, we must acknowledge that all options entail some level of risk. It is incorrect to assume that going to campus represents full risk, while staying home is a risk-free option. In fact, for some students, campus may be the safest place they can be. Faced with this reality, we are focusing our attention on managing risk by applying the best available scientific evidence.

To begin with, let me be very clear: Any student who has an underlying medical condition identified by the CDC as a risk factor should stay home. You will receive an excellent remote educational experience, and we will look forward to welcoming you back in person when it is safe for you. For those who feel the residential experience is essential, the on-campus hybrid protected model we offer is an enriching option.

This past Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked directly whether schools could reopen safely. His recommended approach was this: “You have got to say, ‘I’m going to try to open the schools, to the best of my ability. And if there are issues with activity of virus, try to mitigate it by some creative capabilities.’” Our adaptive and responsive strategy taps into our creative capabilities.

In addition to adapting our curriculum to different modes of delivery, when students arrive on campus in a few weeks, the physical changes will be palpable. From outdoor tents to hands-free devices, from thousands of signs to hundreds of hand sanitizing stations, from plexiglass shields in front of cashiers and faculty to safe return kits, our team has implemented measures to keep our campus community safe.

Responsibility and reciprocity are key to our individual and collective success. Whether on or off campus, every action we take, every choice we make, will affect others. Those physically present on campus will be required to comply with a number of very strict measures. These include:

  • Testing prior to arrival on campus;
  • 14-day quarantine for those who travel internationally, test positive, or are exposed to the virus;
  • An honest and mandatory daily health self-assessment through a simple-to-use app;
  • Verification of self-reports through random temperature checks;
  • Mandatory cooperation with contact tracing;
  • Mandatory use of face coverings at all times while in public spaces (whether indoors or outdoors) and whenever appropriate physical distancing is not feasible;
  • No indoor events until at least November 1; and
  • Nightly curfews and restrictions on off-campus activities, about which we will be sending further guidance.

To our students who are planning to come back on campus for the fall, let me again be very clear: if you do not feel you can comply with all these measures, you can still—and should—sign up for fully remote instruction. But if you come to campus, you will be asked to sign an affirmation that you understand your responsibilities as a member of our community—and you must honor them.

We will help you comply with this pledge in three ways. The first is what I call persuasion through inspiration. The time we are living in is an opportunity to rise and become the best version of ourselves. It is as profound a teaching moment as any of us have experienced, calling us to put civic responsibility into action.

The second element in promoting compliance is positive peer pressure. We will have 50 students who will serve as public health ambassadors, reminding us of the measures in place. The applications to serve as public health ambassadors are due July 22, and I encourage students looking to develop leadership skills to apply.

In addition, we are requesting that each group of roommates living off campus designate a public health delegate to encourage healthy behavior. We have seen examples across the country of how infection spreads when people choose not to follow measures.

As a public health professional, I cannot emphasize enough that keeping our community safe in the face of a contagious virus will require each one of us to act responsibly. We have asked all our student leaders, including those who are leading large student organizations like fraternities and sororities, to join with us in living out our commitment to ’Canes caring for ’Canes.

The third way we will drive responsible behavior is quite simply zero tolerance for violations on campus. Students who fail to comply with what we have all agreed to will face disciplinary measures up to and including suspension.

Overcoming the challenges posed by a pandemic will require each of us to prioritize the greater good. We are doing everything possible to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but we need responsible involvement of all members of our University community.

Parents and families often ask me “What can I do to help the University?” Today, that answer is clear. Remind your students that if they undertake risky behavior, it will hurt their semester—for themselves and possibly also for others. Remind them that together, we can help create the outcome we all desire.

If there is one thing my five years at the U have taught me, it is that we are at our very best when the stakes are high. That is when we show what ’Canes are made of. As you make decisions this week, know that the U is ready to make 2020 an instructive and inspiring year—a year when we will all feel proud of having risen successfully to meet the challenge of a lifetime.

We are One U.

Julio Frenk