4 Points Clarifying KU's Effort to Resume In-person Activity

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Monday, May 18, 2020, 10:52 a.m.
KU Lawrence All Staff Faculty and Affiliates,KU Graduate Teaching Assistants,KU Graduate Research Assistants,KU Graduate Assistants

Dear faculty, staff and graduate student employees,

In recent days, you’ve heard from various KU leaders about plans for a phased reopening of our physical campus – beginning with research activities that rely heavily on specific facilities. Today I want to clarify a few points of reported confusion.

  1. KU’s comprehensive research portfolio involves intensive research activity across the disciplines.

As I have been talking with some of our academic leaders over the past week, I’ve realized that, given my newness in the role of Provost at KU and given the critical work this spring has focused on addressing the challenges of COVID-19, I have not expressed widely enough my understanding of the breadth and diversity of KU’s research, discovery and creative enterprise – and its critical importance to advance disciplines and address the grand challenges faced today by the region, the state, the nation and the world.

I’m sure I speak for everyone in the campus community when I say we value work across the arts and humanities, library sciences, social and historical sciences, design sciences, natural and mathematical sciences and beyond. Each is critically important to achieving our mission of changing the world and our vision of advancing society.

The majority of our research, discovery and creative activity does not require on-campus space to continue in some form, and I appreciate all the sacrifices you have made to quickly adapt and continue working away from your offices, studios, labs and field sites. Your efforts have kept KU research, discovery and creativity thriving during unprecedented times.

The unique, dual, and somewhat competing challenges we face at this moment are that we simply must protect both our research enterprise and the researchers who do this critical work.

  1. Most of you should not be on campus.
    If you do not work in one of the buildings explicitly slated for reopening in the next two weeks – and you are not conducting approved essential research or other categories of essential work – you should continue working remotely. This is the case as we continue to develop the systems that will allow us to mitigate the real risks we face from the coronavirus. Therefore, this direction includes all KU faculty, staff and student employees. Exceptions will be rare and must be requested by deans, research center directors or vice provosts and approved by the Office of Research and Campus Operations in conjunction with the Office of the Provost.
  2. Sound logic informs the phased reopening plan for KU buildings.

I recognize that many of you are anxious to get back to work in the campus spaces where you can be most productive; this return is especially crucial for laboratory researchers who rely on specialized equipment. I also know that some of you are frustrated by the phased approach to reopening buildings.

I understand your frustration, and at the same time, I want to assure you that the health and safety of the KU and Lawrence communities form the foundation of this plan. I appreciate your patience and grace as we work to ensure that facilities are safer to occupy before we allow people to return. Supplies necessary to keep buildings as clean as possible remain extremely difficult to procure, which could have an impact on the pace of opening buildings. Nevertheless, our Facilities Services team has gone above and beyond the call of duty to accelerate all the preparations required by public health regulations, overcoming building challenges and developing risk mitigation plans with limited hours and staffing. I hope you’ll all join me in expressing gratitude to these colleagues.

With regard to the sequence of facilities reopening and personnel scheduled for return, the research reactivation team led by Vice Chancellor for Research Simon Atkinson and Vice Provost for Operations Mike Rounds evaluated the steps necessary to make each facility ready for safer occupancy, the research projects where we have noted particular urgency driven by imminent deadlines from sponsors, and types of research that will take longer to reactivate, such as studies involving vertebrate animals. I am confident that these difficult decisions have been made with the goal of restoring activity to as many facilities as possible, while always keeping the health and safety of the campus community as the highest priority. 

  1. Working on campus is a privilege that may be revoked.

As stewards of this great public university and its facilities, each of us is responsible during this pandemic for ensuring that our activities and interactions comply with all KU and public health and safety regulations. Each of us who is fortunate enough to work and learn at KU also has responsibility to care for the facilities and resources here that are beyond any of our complete ownership or control. I thank all who have been diligently abiding by the guidelines provided by campus leadership.

KU research, discovery and creative activity are incredibly important for our state, nation and world. It is because this is true, at this unique moment in history, we are required to conduct our work with appropriate caution and personal accountability. Therefore, for the good of the university and our community, anyone who jeopardizes the safety of others by not complying with university directions will forfeit the privilege of being present on campus.

Thank you to Simon, Mike and their teams for quickly and thoughtfully charting a path forward, and thank you to all of you for your patience, teamwork and constructive feedback as we navigate this path together.



Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor