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Update: Coronavirus - March 17, 2020

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Jeremy Haefner

News  •

To the DU Community,

As I shared in my email yesterday, we are in the midst of an unprecedented and fast-moving crisis; and as such, we are being called on to pivot quickly as circumstances change. We are mindful that the decisions we make for the health of our community must be both responsive and responsible, so we are closely monitoring the advice of public health experts, and also the decisions of our peers. Yesterday’s guidance from the White House that people avoid gatherings of more than 10 people has heightened everyone’s concerns.

Along with the health and safety of our community, teaching and learning—the core functions of this fine university—matter most to me and, I know the same is true for all of you. Therefore, while the news I am sharing weighs heavily on my heart, it also is absolutely the right thing to do.

We know that our students are feeling considerable concern about how they will fulfill their academic responsibilities whether they are seniors in their last quarter, students who must meet certain requirements to stay on track, graduate students who have experiential and lab work as part of their curriculum, or first or second-year students who are just beginning to understand the direction they may wish to follow during their time at DU, and in their future careers.

A bit later today, Corinne Lengsfeld, interim provost and executive vice chancellor, and I will send a separate message to undergraduate and graduate students that specifically addresses spring term courses and support, completion-to-degree concerns and a variety of other important academic issues that we are carefully deliberating, along with the deans and faculty.

In the meantime, I met this morning with the University’s leadership team, and collectively we made the following decisions:

The online format will be extended through the end of the academic year. We believe it will be safer and also less disruptive to decide now to extend online teaching and learning for the entire spring term. While we cannot possibly predict when it will be deemed safe to resume to normal physical proximity, we have every confidence that our faculty will hit their stride with their online courses, and that consistency through the quarter will preserve academic excellence for everyone involved.

It is imperative that we put our best foot forward for student online learning. I know we have the capacity to provide a robust online experience and I am confident that we will not rest until we achieve that goal across the curriculum, including in our experiential learning, laboratories, arts and theatre courses. Nonetheless, this takes tremendous effort and time on behalf of the faculty and patience on the part of our students. As such, I am asking the faculty to dedicate the first week of classes after spring break to orient their students to the new learning model and to work out any kinks and questions that will undoubtedly arise. We expect that the university will develop an orientation to online learning for the students to experience during this first week. But it is important to note that we will maintain the spring term dates as they exist now.

I do acknowledge, however, that because the Sturm College of Law is on a semester calendar, our Sturm College of Law faculty are teaching online beginning today, and will do so for the remainder of their semester. Thank you, faculty. 

Additional resources will be made available. We realize that converting to online teaching will take considerable effort on everyone’s part. To help ensure success, we will be hiring additional instructional designers, and creating a peer network so faculty members with expertise in this area who have some bandwidth can mentor others with less experience. Faculty will be encouraged to begin this work over spring break. We will soon share more information on this and other available resources.

Commencement events to be determined. Of the many difficult decisions we are discussing, how to handle commencement is perhaps the most meaningful one—especially to our seniors and their loved ones, who have invested so much and looked so forward to a public and joyful celebration. Because we cannot predict the trajectory of the Coronavirus, or when it will be safe to gather in great numbers, we ask for your patience until there is greater clarity.

Inauguration postponed to the fall. With so many other priorities, it is both prudent and wise to postpone the inauguration, which was planned for May 15, until the fall, when we hope to properly honor and celebrate DU’s history.

Alumni Weekend: Alumni Weekend activities from May 14-16 have also been postponed.

How true it is that times like these can try our souls. But I also believe they can bring out the best in us. The work we have done as a community—to actively problem solve and build trust—will help us thrive in the coming weeks and months. It also will make us stronger for future challenges we will inevitably face.

Maintaining our sense of community is especially important right now, as we adjust to social distancing and spending more time by ourselves. I urge you to reach out to friends, whether by phone or email or at a safe physical distance, and to remember that DU is a compassionate and caring place, and that we all continue to be an important part of it. We are also looking carefully at ways, in addition to online learning, that we can help create a virtual sense of belonging, even while we are separated from one another. We will share more about this as our thinking evolves.

I want to thank you again for heeding each important administrative message, and for complying so diligently and flexibly, even as we deal with so many unknown factors. From the emails I am receiving, I can see that we—as individuals and as an institution—are continuing to display the strength of character that defines us as OneDU.

Please continue to check the DU COVID-19 website for updates and answers to frequently asked questions.

Thank you again for your patience and dedication to the public good.

Be well. Do good. Stay strong.

Jeremy Haefner