Vanderbilt’s ‘Return to Campus Plan’ to reopen ‘specific, limited, on-campus operations’

While Nashville will begin reopening May 11, Vanderbilt will implement its own framework of reopening, which will begin with on-campus research that cannot be done remotely May 18.

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Emily Gonçalves

Vanderbilt's Peabody Campus. (Former Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Avery Muir, Copy Editor

CORRECTION: The timezone in reference to Vice-Chancellor Eric Kopstain and Interim Chancellor Susan R. Wente’s town hall was stated incorrectly as CST, and the timezone has been updated to reflect the current, accurate timezone: CDT.

Vanderbilt will resume “specific, limited, on-campus operations” beginning May 18 as part of Phase 1 of the university’s “Return to Campus Plan,” Interim Chancellor Susan R. Wente announced in a May 7 email to the Vanderbilt community.

According to the email, on-campus research activities that cannot be conducted remotely will recommence first. Specific details regarding reopening requirements and protocols are scheduled to be posted May 11.

While some research operations will be allowed to resume, many existing restrictions and precautions will stay in place throughout Phase 1. All faculty and staff will continue to work remotely, barring explicit permission from their dean or manager. Social distancing and face masks will be required in all indoor and outdoor spaces, and no events will be held on campus. These guidelines are all already part of current university safety precautions, according to the email.

Specific additional protections during Phase 1 will include density limits in all workspaces and buildings, monitoring and reporting symptoms and continued limitations on events and gatherings, per Wente’s email. 

“The plan is guided by our unique circumstances, and, like the Nashville plan, it considers public health status and operating guidance from the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Tennessee Department of Public Health and Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” the email stated.

Mayor John Cooper announced that Nashville will begin Phase 1 of its “Roadmap for Reopening Nashville” May 11, allowing bars, restaurants and retail stores to open at half capacity. Elective and routine health care procedures will also resume. The city still recommends that residents wear face masks in public and work from home if possible. 

This is the first of a four-stage plan to reopen Nashville; the city will only progress to the next stage if there is stability or improvement in metrics, such as the decrease in the number of new daily cases, over a 14-day period. The plan does not include any information specific to reopening universities. 

According to the May 7 email, Vice Chancellor Eric Kopstain and Interim Chancellor Susan R. Wente will hold a town hall meeting Wednesday, May 13, at 12 p.m. CDT to announce what future phases of the plan to reopen will look like.

“We all share the same goal—returning to the beloved community and campus that feed our spirits and minds, and conducting classes in person there this fall,” Wente said in the email. “Achieving that goal is up to each one of us.”

The full text from the email reads as follows:

Dear Vanderbilt community,

Today Mayor John Cooper announced that on Monday, May 11, Nashville will begin Phase 1 in his Roadmap for Reopening Nashville. I encourage all of you, particularly those who are residents of Nashville, to read and familiarize yourselves with the city’s Phase 1 plans. Most importantly, I want you to know that the university will be implementing its own framework for reopening.

The reopening of universities, including Vanderbilt, is not specifically noted in the Nashville plan. That is because universities, like ours, cannot easily be defined by a single function. We are complex operational entities—almost like a city unto ourselves and home to many different functions. We are an event site; our dining facilities are like restaurants; our in-person classes could be considered akin to K-12 schools; and so much more. And we know that as a residential university, we have unique needs.

Over the past weeks, multiple committees, working groups and task forces have been working on the Vanderbilt University “Return to Campus Plan.” The plan is guided by our unique circumstances, and, like the Nashville plan, it considers public health status and operating guidance from the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Tennessee Department of Public Health and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Incoming Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and I have been coordinating closely throughout this process working with the Board of Trust Ad Hoc Committee on University COVID-19 Response. We will ramp up our various operations in orderly, sequential phases that keep our core mission of teaching and research at the center of our efforts.

Our own Vanderbilt University Phase 1 resumption of specific, limited, on-campus operations and activities will begin May 18 and will be tailored to our own unique density, operations and other considerations as a residential education institution. Phasing in increasing levels of on-campus activity will enable us to test and practice rigorous Vanderbilt University protocols in an orderly manner that will enhance the safety of the Vanderbilt and larger Nashville communities.

Right now, I want all to be aware that the following steps and precautions remain in place on the Vanderbilt campus now and during the university’s Phase 1:

  • All staff will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future unless required to be on campus at the explicit request of their manager.
  • All faculty will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future unless authorized to be on campus by their dean.
  • Only residential faculty and a limited number of students with explicit approval are currently living on campus.
  • Buildings are open only to Vanderbilt community members with appropriate access.
  • Physical distancing of at least 6 feet between individuals remains in place in all campus spaces, indoor and outdoor.
  • Face masks are required in all indoor and outdoor public places.
  • All those on campus must abide by university social distancing and mask protocols, including any contractors or visitors.
  • No events or gatherings may be held on campus.

The first operations to begin ramping up during the university’s Phase 1 will be on-campus research activities that cannot be conducted remotely. I believe Vanderbilt research is absolutely essential to solving the problems we face as a society, most immediately the COVID-19 pandemic. Our researchers and I want this essential work to resume as soon as possible.

Vice Chancellor Eric Kopstain and Vice Provost Padma Raghavan and committees working with them have laid out the plans for ramping up these specific research activities. The associate deans for research in each school/college are also directly involved in this planning. Faculty will hear directly from Vice Provost Raghavan and the deans about re-opening requirements and protocols in their areas. Specific campuswide policies and protocols for research activities will be posted on Monday, May 11.

We also have developed detailed, rigorous sets of campus wide operating protocols that will be put in place across campus. Some will be across all aspects of the university campus, and others will be specific to unique areas (such as research environments). The Phase 1 protocols will include physical distancing, density limits in all workspaces and building areas, wearing face masks, monitoring and reporting symptoms of illness, event and gathering limitations and other safety precautions. As additional operations resume in a phased manner in the coming months, any additional protocols, or modifications to such protocols, will be updated in real time. The success of our implementation will require everyone’s commitment and cooperation.

Vice Chancellor Eric Kopstain and I will hold a town hall meeting on Wednesday, May 13, at noon on Zoom to share with you the current expected phases for our continued ramp up of campus activities. This town hall will be the first of several and is one way we will be continuing to share information. Details on how to join the call will be shared in MyVU on Monday, May 11.

We all share the same goal—returning to the beloved community and campus that feed our spirits and minds, and conducting classes in person there this fall. Achieving that goal is up to each one of us. Our ability to sustain and increase our on-campus presence and activities depends on the commitment and cooperation of every member of our community. Vanderbilt University distinguishes itself through a culture of collaboration and a dedication to teaching, research and service. Now, more than ever, we must come together as a community with a shared sense of responsibility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with tremendous challenges, but, thankfully, this is exactly what we as a university community are prepared to tackle—to ask, to question, to collaborate, to discover, to solve. And, most of all, to do so together.

Sincerely,

Susan R. Wente

Interim Chancellor and Provost