May 18, 2020
Dear Members of the Brown Community,
We hope that you and your loved ones are well and staying safe and healthy. As President Christina Paxson wrote in her May 6 letter to faculty and staff, the University is preparing for a gradual and controlled resumption of some on-campus activities between June and August. Doing so is highly dependent on and will be guided by the phases and allowable operations under Governor Raimondo’s Reopening Rhode Island plan. The Governor’s recent announcement that the state is now in Phase I is an indicator of progress and furthers the University’s ability to begin planning for some limited and approved on-campus activities, with the understanding that any plan is subject to change at any time depending on the course of the pandemic.
This letter provides information about how the University has structured and will manage the summer return to campus process, beginning with, and only with, approved laboratory-based research. As President Paxson indicated, our return to campus will be focused on safeguarding the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, and any on-campus operations will require an approved safety plan.
While this communication is necessarily long and prescriptive, we urge all community members to read it thoroughly, as it addresses the following important topics:
- Extension of telecommuting
- The University’s new COVID-19 Workplace Safety Policy
- New procedures outlined in Resuming Work in Research Facilities Principles and Procedures: Stage 1
EXTENSION OF TELECOMMUTING
As President Paxson wrote earlier this month, most employees working remotely will continue to do so through the summer. Accordingly, we are extending telecommuting through the end of summer hours, August 14, 2020. Supervisors should continue to manage schedules with their employees based on the nature of their job assignments. As the University established in March, only personnel whose work (1) has been identified as essential onsite or essential-special or (2) is part of laboratory-based research that is approved under the process referenced below should report to work in person. All other employees who can telecommute are expected to continue doing so.
We recognize that given the very real economic impact that COVID-19 has had on the local and global economy, as well as on Brown, members of our community are concerned about their economic security. We remain deeply committed to our community, and want to offer the assurance that although it is impossible to make promises in this time of great uncertainty, the University is not currently planning any COVID-associated layoffs; they will be avoided to the best extent practicable.
COVID-19 WORKPLACE SAFETY POLICY
The University has established the COVID-19 Workplace Safety Policy. This policy applies to all faculty, staff and students, and all members of the community are expected to become familiar and comply with it at all times. No member of the community will be able to return to campus, or continue to be on campus in the case of personnel already performing on-site essential work, until they have completed and signed an employee acknowledgement (available via Workday and directly through University Human Resources for those with limited Workday access). The acknowledgement affirms employees’ understanding and acceptance of the policy.
It will be especially important for chairs, directors and managers to be familiar with the policy both to guide academic and administrative unit-based plans (which leaders of units will be notified to prepare and submit), and to model appropriate public health behavior for faculty, staff and students. Our collective health, safety and ability to carry out our academic mission will be a function of individual choices over the coming months and beyond, and we will have to work together to make prioritizing each other’s health a reflexive habit.
While all community members need to review the policy in full, several critical elements underscore that the daily operations and environment of faculty, staff and others approved to be on campus will be affected, and in some cases constrained, by current public health guidance. This includes the following requirements:
- Protective face wear: All individuals approved to work on campus will wear masks or cloth face coverings (University-provided or self-provided) unless they can easily, continuously, and measurably maintain at least six feet of distance from others.
- Social distancing: Maintaining a distance of six feet or more will be the norm, and conference rooms, kitchens, and other shared common spaces will, with limited exceptions, be closed.
- Virtual meetings: Most meetings will need to continue to be virtual, even for those who have returned to campus. In rare instances where meetings cannot be virtual, face coverings and adequate space to ensure social distancing will be required.
- Cleaning: While University cleaning and disinfecting will be increased, individuals will also be responsible for using provided supplies to clean and sanitize their work areas, shared equipment and other surfaces.
- Other personal responsibilities: Consistent with the state’s public health guidelines, the expectation will be that individuals will keep their network of contacts to a minimum, maintain contact logs, and will follow all guidance from the University and the State of Rhode Island regarding what to do if one feels sick, exhibits COVID-19 symptoms, or has interacted with someone who has tested positive. This includes participating in testing, contact tracing, and quarantine or isolation protocols as prescribed and administered by the Rhode Island Department of Health and individuals’ health care providers.
We understand that many in our community are becoming accustomed to these new, required ways of living and working, and this policy makes clear what to expect as we return to campus under conditions designed to promote overall health and safety.
RESUMING WORK IN RESEARCH FACILITIES PRINCIPLES AND PROCEDURES: STAGE 1
The first phase of resuming on-campus activities and programs will be for laboratory-based research, and the only return-to-campus plans the University will be considering for the time being will be for such research.
Generally, work involving laboratory-based research, facilities and equipment cannot be conducted remotely, and many labs have been closed since March 16. We recognize that many other kinds of research that faculty conduct, including the use of archival materials, would benefit from taking place on campus, and we anticipate considering those requests soon. However, it is important that we conduct a gradual and controlled return to campus, and Brown’s extensive portfolio of laboratory-based research is the first stage.
A research continuity committee of faculty and staff, chaired by Vice President for Research Jill Pipher, has developed Research Facilities Reopening Principles and Procedures: Stage 1. This document details the principles that will guide the development, review and approval of plans to resume research operations in labs that are currently closed, as well as the criteria that will guide responding to requests to resume activity. Review of submitted plans will involve multiple stakeholders, including department chairs, building representatives and offices with responsibility for health and safety, culminating in recommendations from Vice President Pipher to both of us for final review and decisions.
Resuming research in accordance with public health guidance and the University’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Policy is a challenging and complex undertaking; however, we expect this to be a timely and efficient process, and look forward to certain laboratories resuming operations in early June.
Questions and suggestions regarding any of these matters may be directed to the appropriate office or an email address established for questions regarding Brown’s return to campus, [email protected].
We recognize that this letter includes substantial parameters for a campus community that thrives on independence. While we wish these measures were not necessary, this level of guidance is critical as we work to advance our mission of teaching, research and service responsibly and safely. Thank you for your continued commitment and dedication to Brown and to one another during this highly challenging and uncertain time.
Richard M. Locke, Provost
Barbara Chernow, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration