What to Know for Fall 2021

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Friday, August 6, 2021 11:58 a.m.
Faculty Staff Graduate Teaching Assistants

Dear Faculty, Staff and Graduate Teaching Assistants,

My sincere hope is that all of you found some personal time this summer to step away from the stresses and do things you love with the people you care about. We are at the cusp of the fall semester and I know some are now looking upon our pandemic health circumstances with a growing sense of concern. I appreciate this feeling, so I want to let you know about the progress we are making on this journey.

First, I hope you saw today’s announcement that we will be requiring masks for everyone in indoor spaces on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses beginning on Monday, Aug. 9. The revised policy has limited exceptions, such as allowing an individual to temporarily remove their mask while actively instructing, performing or presenting. Details are in the newly revised policy, and we will continue to monitor conditions and reassess the policy. I appreciate the guidance and recommendation of our Pandemic Medical Advisory Team on this decision.

As we prepare our campuses for the semester ahead, we have the benefit this year of the development and introduction of vaccines, in record time, which have made the outlook more positive than last year. Our teams continue to monitor pandemic conditions and work closely with regional public health officers. We currently have a low infection rate and hospitalization rate in Douglas County, and we have good evidence of high vaccination rates among faculty and staff. These behaviors are aligned with what we know from science about how to combat the virus and the Delta variant, and are good markers for our community.

How We are Preparing

State law enacted last spring prevents state agencies, including public universities, from requiring proof of COVID vaccination. So how are we addressing this unknown variable? We are making it safe, easy and secure — and hope this will be an encouragement — for students to get vaccinated if they haven’t already done so. We will soon announce some amazing incentives for students who have been or plan to be vaccinated when they arrive on our campuses.

A number of you, as well as governance leaders, have asked about other preparations for fall.

  • As mentioned, we continue to have teams who are monitoring the latest federal and regional medical guidance, as well as infection and hospital rates in our region. They are working to ensure the Chancellor and I have the latest information to make the best possible decisions for our campuses.

  • Masks are required indoors and strongly recommended in crowded outdoor spaces. Masks also are required on buses. Masks are highly effective in curbing the spread of this disease, as they protect both you and the people around you. In addition to vaccination, masks are the best way to take control of your health. We have reinstated the online COVID-19 Safety Non-compliance Report form where you can report concerns about someone not following the mask policy.

  • PPE is still available to individuals, departments and offices on campus by submitting an order through the Protect KU website.

  • Most shared offices and classrooms have been equipped with air filtration systems.

  • We have a team putting the final touches on the previously mentioned vaccination campaign focused on our student population.

  • Vaccinations are available for students, staff and faculty — right now — by appointment through Watkins Health Services. Students can schedule through the Watkins Patient Portal. Faculty and staff (including GTAs) should call 785-864-9565. You can find additional vaccination locations on the CDC’s vaccine website.

  • KU Student Housing has communicated to its residents they will need to take a non-invasive COVID test prior to moving in, or the student can upload their COVID vaccination records to Watkins’ secure portal.

Course Attendance Policies and Practices

Instructors have asked about how to handle student absences this semester. Instructors determine and control the attendance policies for their courses. Students are responsible for communicating in a timely manner if they are unable to attend due to illness. Instructors are encouraged to consider alternate forms of absence verification — perhaps the documentation of a medical appointment — rather than a doctor’s note. Such a move could help reduce an avoidable rush on Watkins Health Services visits, freeing medical professionals to work with serious cases as well as deliver preventive care.

Course Format and Instructional Delivery

Courses will be delivered in the format that has been announced on the fall 2021 course schedule. Instructors may not change the course format or location without the approval of their Dean, which will require an ADA accommodation request. Students enrolled in fall classes with specific expectations of the educational mode and academic experience. The pandemic imparted several lessons about student engagement, instruction mode and academic rigor. Many students learned they need the interaction and opportunities that can be optimized through an in-person setting. We also know this past year that limited in-person interaction had significant effects on our students’ collective mental health. We absolutely must meet the needs of our students and our institution.

Again, we have teams monitoring pandemic conditions and trends and we will let you know if it becomes necessary to shift course format.

Course Adaptations

Instructors are not under obligation to construct an online version of their in-person courses for individual students whose circumstances place them or their immediate family members at high risk for COVID-19. Students were advised they should enroll in fall semester courses that are offered in the format they need. Those students who need courses in online or hybrid formats should work with their advisor to find suitable courses that will help them stay on track in their programs.

Stay Informed

Our guidance may change as the situation evolves. There is more we will share in the days and weeks ahead, including employee-specific information from Mike Rounds and Chris Brown soon. Please continue to check your inbox for important messages, as well as the Protect KU website. If you have specific questions that we haven’t yet answered, please send them to provost@ku.edu or submit them online in our Suggestion Box. You can also submit COVID-specific questions on the Protect KU site.

In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and your families. I am so appreciative of your commitment to our students and the community we serve and care about.



Barbara A. Bichelmeyer

Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor