Note from the editor:
Although the university should be providing their own recording of the town hall, we wanted to give you access to my recording in the interim. (While I tried to limit background noise as much as possible, Teams notifications, typing sounds and my dog barking obnoxiously at the mailman between 26:43 – 30:13 were unavoidable. Apologies for the inconvenience).
Let us know if you have any questions, and all the best in the coming weeks.
Madison York, Editor-in-Chief
Timestamps and corresponding questions/answers
- 0:37 – 6:57 – Introductions, opening remarks by President Benson
- 6:58 – 8:34 – How are staff, students and faculty being encouraged to address inherent bias?
- 8:35 – 9:23 – Is it possible to include diverse celebrations – Juneteenth, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, etc. – at the university?
- 9:24 – 9:59 – Will the black student body receive a response back from President Benson regarding their call for changes on campus?
- 10:00 – 10:56 – How will UTD protect freedom of speech and the exchange of ideas on campus?
- 10:57 – 12:30 – What are UTD’s plans to attract more African-American professors?
- 12:31 – 13:51 – Is there a UT Dallas police oversight board or committee to address complaints and ensure accountability?
- 13:52 – 14:31 – What is the UT Dallas police policy regarding use of deadly force and chokeholds?
- 14:32 – 15:02 – What training do UT Dallas police officers receive regarding de-escalation and working with individuals with mental health differences?
- 15:03 – 16:40 – Does the UT Dallas administration and UTD police leadership encourage officers to intervene and report if they witness officer misconduct?
- 16:41 – 18:27 – Why does UT Dallas think it is safe to bring people together four or five times a week, with COVID-19 cases on the rise in local counties?
- 18:28 – 19:17 – Will the university require faculty and students to wear masks during class? If so, will the university provide faculty and students with masks to wear?
- 19:18 – 19:55 – Will the university be performing temperature checks at every building?
- 19:56 – 22:33 – What measures will the university take to reduce infection risks and to keep the campus safe?
- 22:34 – 24:22 – How does the university plan to enforce the public safety guidelines/public health guidelines?
- 24:23 – 26:59 – Have there been any confirmed cases on campus? If students, faculty, or staff have come into contact with COVID-19 or have tested positive while away from UT Dallas, will they be allowed on campus?
- 27:00 – 28:39 – Why wasn’t the entire student body notified about the reported cases of COVID-19?
- 28:40 – 29:14 – Will the university provide COVID-19 testing to faculty and staff returning to work in the fall?
- 29:15 – 30:39 – What accommodations are available for those dealing with lack of childcare as they are asked to return to work?
- 30:50 – 32:09 – Are PhD students allowed to access labs or offices on a regular basis in the coming months?
- 32:10 – 32:30 – Are all research labs going to be open in the fall?
- 32:31 – 33:33 – What budget cuts are being considered, if any, in addition to those already announced?
- 33:34 – 34:09 – If someone is paid from outside sources — mainly grants — are they eligible to receive a salary increase for Fiscal Year 2021?
- 34:10 – 34:24 – Will there be offers of early retirement packages for staff?
- 34:25 – 35:09 – Are there plans for any other financial assistance to students beyond the CARES Act and traditional financial aid?
- 35:10 – 35:43 – Will tuition for online classes be discounted?
- 35:44 – 48:51 – Overview of Fall 2020 Classes/Academics
- 36:10 – 39:00 – General framework goals, calendar
- 39:01 – 40:16 – Occupancy limitations
- 40:17 – 41: 13 – Faculty teaching preference
- 41:14 – 42:06 – Notifying students of change in modality
- 42:06 – 45:26 – Types of class modalities
- 45:27 – 48:51 – Other limiting factors, selecting modalities
- 48:52 – 50:26 – Why wasn’t UT Dallas given Juneteenth off?
- 50:27 – 50:55 – Will Tobor be sanitized, and on what schedule?
- 50:56 – 51:38 – Will all employees have to monitor their health daily?
- 51:39 – 52:23 – If a student decides to stay home in the fall, can they procure housing in the spring/pay for Spring 2021 housing only?
- 52:24 – 52:46 – If students change their mind and would like to do classes from home/not live on campus but have already reserved Fall 2020 housing, what should they do?
- 52:47 – 53:18 – Will the cancellation dates for housing be extended so that students who need to cancel fall housing won’t be penalized?
- 53:19 – 53:49 – For students who will not be on campus and who have a meal plan, will that meal plan be refunded?
- 53:50 – 54:31 – Will international students flying into Dallas need to undergo quarantine? If so, how?
- 54:32 – 55:19 – Will the university allow on-campus organizations to have meetings as they used to?
- 55:20 – 56:10 – How will the bus schedules be affected by extra cleaning precautions? How much of a delay can riders expect?
- 56:11 – 56:54 – If a student starts out doing in-person classes, would they have an option to transition to online midway through the semester?
- 56:55 – 57:52 – Are there any plans for Fall 2020 commencement ceremonies? Will they still happen, or be postponed?
- 57:53 – 58:31 – Will doctoral candidates/graduate students who have missed hooding/graduation ceremonies be able to participate in those ceremonies in future?
- 58:32 – 59:48 – Will Spring 2021 classes be in person? What about housing and dining options for Spring 2021?
- 59:49 – 1:02:03 – Closing remarks from President Benson.
Rafael Martín (0:37):
Good afternoon Comets, and welcome to this presidential town hall. I’m Rafael Martín, your vice president and chief of staff, and I will be serving as moderator for today’s event. Thank you all for the many questions that we received through the firstname.lastname@example.org email inbox. And I’ll remind you that additional questions can be posted through the chat function for this event. We’ll try to get to as many as we can, but as you can imagine, we have a lot of ground to cover this afternoon. But before we get to your questions it is my pleasure to introduce UT Dallas president, Dr. Richard C. Benson, for some opening remarks. Dr. Benson?
Richard Benson (1:16):
Thank you, Rafael, and good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us today for a discussion of matters important to you and to UT Dallas. Before we move into the town hall format, I would like to speak to a topic of great importance to me personally, and to our university. We hold dear our institution’s values of community diversity and inclusion, and as such, we must challenge ourselves to do more to understand the impact of systematic racism on our students, staff, and faculty. I know that we can meet this challenge. This is why I’ve established a task force that will look deeply into issues of fairness and inclusion at UT Dallas. And let us know how we can do a better job. I expect this team to do a lot of listening and to seek out many viewpoints. Most importantly, the taskforce will make recommendations by the start of the fall semester, if not sooner, that are actionable, that will lead to improvements and inclusion, access, and equity for all.
Benson (cont’d) (2:07):
This taskforce will be representative of the broader campus community. It will be led by Dr. George Fair — vice president for diversity and community engagement — and co-chaired by Rafael Martín. We take diversity seriously at UT Dallas. So I want to commend the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme court to allow the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act to remain in effect. These DACA students, often called dreamers, have much to offer our community and our campus. I note, too, a second Supreme court decision, which ruled that the 1964 civil rights act protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. This is a tremendous victory for the LGBT+ community, and one that I celebrate. I know that UT Dallas scores five out of five stars on the campus pride index and was ranked 14th in the nation, well ahead of any other university in Texas. We can take great pride in the great work coming out of the Multicultural Center, the Galerstein Gender Center, and other UTD programs, but we cannot be satisfied with the status quo. Many of us at UTD believe that this is the time for meaningful discussion, followed by change in how we treat one another. It has become all the more essential to fulfill our mission as a public university. And as a public university, we strive to be open in our communications. That is why we are here today to continue our conversation about issues that are relevant for the return to campus and operations in the fall semester and beyond. Our first town hall was held in April. It originated with the Academic Senate and was quickly embraced by the staff council and student government. It was so well received that we have elected to continue to gather our community in this virtual format.
Benson (cont’d) (3:50):
And once again, I’m very grateful to Ravi Prakash, speaker to the Academic Senate; Brooke Schafer, president of the staff council; and Ayoub Mohammed and Hope Cory, president and vice president of the student government. Thank you all for your leadership. Turning now to the submitted questions. It is always interesting to see the range of inquiry. Many questions fell into similar categories, and those will be addressed theme by theme here. Given the town hall format, some questions might not get answered in the next hour; and if that happens, we will provide an answer to the person who submitted the question by email. I am joined today by some members of the university leadership team, and I’ll refer some categories of questions to them. You’ve already been introduced to our moderator, Rafael, Martín. Helping answer the questions will be Inga Musselman, our provost; Terry Pankratz, VP for budget and finance; Calvin Jamison, VP for facilities and economic development; Joe Pancrazio, VP for research; Gene Fitch, VP for student affairs; Colleen Dutton, chief human resources officer; and once again, Rafael Martín, chief of staff. Thank you all.
Benson (cont’d) (5:03):
Before we move to your questions. I also want to express my gratitude for what has been accomplished over the last few months. Summer classes were moved online with very few problems. Students and employees of employee programming moved to virtual formats and allowed us to stay connected to each other remotely. Return-to-campus guidelines have been created and posted for employees and students. Plans for full classes have been announced. Research is resuming on campus in phases. Buildings and facilities are being adapted for the return to campus, including measures based on the best practices for social distancing and sanitization. And this is a good place to acknowledge the vital contributions of the faculty and staff at UT Dallas. Thank you for your preparing for the outstanding students who are studying with us this summer, and for those who will be joining or returning in the fall. And for those essential employees who never stopped working on our campus: thank you. You have provided a tremendous service to this university.
Benson (cont’d) (5:55):
And so a bit about the current state of the university. The summer enrollment numbers are at record levels, although — for a less than satisfying reason — many of our students and recent graduates are finding it impossible to find a summer job or that first job after graduation; and, wisely, they are electing to get a further jump on their education. We are seeing some improvement in our projected fall enrollment, but we remain concerned about the impact that the pandemic will have on our numbers. As I said before, a drop in enrollment, which looks increasingly likely, would have a significant economic effect. We have announced steps that we are taking to address these concerns, and continue to look for ways to offset our financial deficit that causes the least amount of harm. As I said in April, we are doing our very best to support our faculty and staff and to minimize the reductions that we will have to make. Essentially every action we take leads us back to our mission: to provide a rigorous and quality academic experience for our students. We will need everyone’s help to ensure that we fulfill our mission in a safe and healthy environment. And with that, I’m happy to take questions.
Thank you, Dr. Benson. The first set of questions that we will answer deal with the topics of racism and diversity. First question for you, Dr. Benson: how are staff, students and faculty being encouraged to address inherent bias?
Well, thank you Rafael. Very important question. And I would like to break this down into two components: work that is already underway through the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement — led by vice president, George Fair — and newer initiatives. There is a broad spectrum of activities within the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement. These include the work of the Multicultural Center and the Galerstein Gender Center. In addition, throughout the year, there are numerous activities that deal directly with how we engage with people who are different from ourselves, how we address our own inherent biases and how we diversify our community. To be sure, there is more work to be done, which is why we are looking into the new Living Our Values taskforce, to provide us with recommendations on how we can better address inherent bias in our community. The Living Our Values taskforce’s charge is to provide actionable recommendations to the president on how to manifest our values of community diversity and inclusion, how to identify and address systemic racism and how to improve access and equity for all in our institution. And I want to add one more point here: this has got to be an effort that unites all segments of the UTD community. We cannot leave it to just the African-American community to address problems of systematic racism. Whites, Hispanics, Asians and others must join in this battle.
Thank you, sir. Is it possible to include diverse celebrations, such as Juneteenth, Indigenous People’s Day, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Lunar Chinese New Year, and/or holidays centered around Ramadan/Islamic holidays at the university?
Well, most definitely yes. In fact, we do celebrate all of these holidays and events on campus. In fact, we just concluded five days of celebration of Juneteenth. The staff and the programs at the Multicultural Center are at the heart of many of these celebrations, and they do a great job of recognizing and celebrating the diversity on campus. If there are groups or celebrations that our community would like to see recognized that are not already part of the Multicultural Center’s programming, I would encourage them to contact the director, Arthur Gregg, and his staff.
Thank you, sir. Will the black student body receive a response back from President Benson regarding our call for changes on campus?
Yes, of course. I received a very thoughtful letter from this group offering numerous changes and initiatives for me to review and consider. And I am personally committed to help resolve the issues identified in that letter. I have forwarded it to George Fair and Rafael Martín, co-chairs of the Living Our Values task force; and I expect, if they have not done so already, that they will ask the representatives from the black student body to participate in this university wide effort.
How will UTD protect freedom of speech and the exchange of ideas on campus?
Thank you. Another important question. In fact, I anticipated it, and so I actually want to go back to something that I said in my convocation speech from 2016, when I was as new as our entering students. And then I gave seven points of advice, and one was to embrace diversity. And I would like to repeat what I said in 2016 — I’m voting myself, now: “you are about to make friends with many scholars who have vastly different life experiences than you, learn from them and share your story too. This also applies to the diversity of ideas. Allow yourself to be challenged, present your own arguments when you feel strongly about a matter, but always do so in a respectful way. It is okay to hold your ground in a dorm room debate. But as a rule of thumb, if you never change your mind on any topic, then it’s a safe bet that you are not learning and you are not growing intellectually.
Thank you, sir. The final question in this section is directed towards Provost Musselman. “I’ve only had one African-American professor in my two years of being a student at UT Dallas. What are UTD’s plans to attract more African-American professors?
Inga Musselman (11:16):
Well, thank you, Rafael. The university is working actively to hire diverse faculty and to retain them. For the past three years, and also going forward, a provost team — currently existing of Dr. Steven Spiro and Ms. Vicki Carlisle, along with the director of institutional equity — is meeting with every tenure and tenure-track search committee. One of the goals of the meeting is to educate the search committee about the development of large and diverse applicant pools and the recruitment of the very best applicants. Data from the survey of earned doctorates is shared to provide the committee with demographic information about recent PhD graduates in their fields. In addition, UT Dallas also has plans for the submission of an NSF ADVANCE grant, or organizational change for gender equity in STEM academic professions. The NSF ADVANCE program provides grants to enhance the systemic factors that support equity and inclusion, and also to mitigate the systemic factors that create inequities in the academic profession and workplaces.
Thank you, Dr. Musselman. The next section of questions deals with policing and our police force here at UT Dallas; and as the administrator with oversight of our police department, I’ll try to answer these questions. The first question: is there a UT Dallas police oversight board or committee to address complaints and to ensure accountability?
Martín (cont’d) (12:54):
The University Safety and Security Council, a university-wide standing committee, has oversight for broad safety and security issues on campus and includes the leadership of our police department. However, it’s not charged directly with police oversight or accountability. At the request of Dr. Benson, I’ve recently convened a police task force charged with providing recommendations to the president on what roles our police force should play in our community and how our police force should operate to ensure the trust and support of our community. I expect the work of this task force to parallel and compliment the work of the Living Our Values task force that Dr. Benson mentioned earlier. The police task force will certainly be looking at issues of oversight and accountability, and will make recommendations to address any issues that they might discover.
Martín (cont’d) (13:52):
The next question: what is the UT Dallas police policy regarding use of deadly force and chokeholds (if those are not considered deadly force)?
Martín (cont’d) (14:00):
Our police policies are set by the UT system director of police, and — I will point out — are available for view on the director of police website at UT system. The Use of Force policy — it’s Policy 601 — defines chokeholds as a use of deadly force, and strictly prohibits the use of chokeholds by our officers.
Martín (cont’d) (14:32):
What training do UT Dallas police officers receive regarding de-escalation and working with individuals with mental health differences?
Martín (cont’d) (14:37):
All of our officers are trained in de-escalation techniques and in dealing with individuals with mental illness. In fact, all of our officers are required to become certified mental health peace officers, which is a 40-hour training course. And we were actually the first department in the UT system to have all of our officers and detectives receive that certification.
Martín (cont’d) (15:03):
Does the UT Dallas administration and UTD police leadership encourage officers to intervene and report if they witness officer misconduct?
Martín (cont’d) (15:12):
The short answer is yes, we do encourage that, but I think more importantly that intervention is required under the policies and regulations that the police department operates under. Both the Use of Force policy and the Code of Conduct policy for the police department require officers to intervene if they see an abuse of power or any misconduct by a fellow officer. I’ll also point out that our police department is required to file a couple of reports that are pertinent to this discussion. One is a Use of Force report and the other is a Racial Profiling report. And both of those reports are available at the director of police website at UT system. And if you are interested in these topics, I would encourage you to download them and take a look at them. And I think you will find that they show our police department in a very positive light.
Martín (cont’d) (16:10):
Finally, I just want to take the opportunity to highlight some presentations that are scheduled by our chief of police, Larry Zacharias. He will be presenting to the Human Resources forum on July 1st, and to upcoming Academic Senate and Staff Council meetings. And I know he always welcomes the input and interaction of our campus community, and we’d be more than happy to answer to any questions that you might have about our police department.
Martín (cont’d) (16:41):
Now, turning to a new topic: safely returning to campus. Dr. Benson, this question is for you. What does UT Dallas think — excuse me, why does UT Dallas think it is safe to bring people together four or five times a week, especially when COVID-19 cases are on a significant rise in both Dallas and Collin counties?
Thank you. I want to start out by saying we’re being very cautious. To date, only essential personnel — that’s facilities and public safety, and a very limited number of researchers — have been on campus. We had hoped to increase this number in the near future, but the COVID-19 metrics in the North Texas region in recent weeks have not looked good. We will wait as long as possible to bring faculty and staff back to campus, and we may not bring some people back to work on campus for the duration of the fall semester. Priority will be given to those staff that are needed to prepare our campus for students and/or those who are needed to serve our students directly. I would add that our goal is to make the UT Dallas campus as safe or safer than whatever the alternative may be. For example, I would like for our residence halls to be safer than any apartment complex in town. I would like for our dining facilities to be safer than any commercial restaurant. The point is that the faculty staff and students of UTD will spend 24 hours in a day somewhere. And I want UTD to be as safe an option as they have. I also want to re-emphasize that students and instructors who do not want to be in the classroom do not have to be. We are giving them the option to deliver and receive their education remotely. And I believe that others will discuss more specific measures to mitigate infection risk and protect the faculty, staff, and students later in this discussion.
Thank you, sir. The next question: will the university require faculty and students to wear masks during class? If so, will the university provide faculty and students with masks to wear?
Martín (cont’d) (18:40):
I can respond to that question. Yes, we are going to require everyone to wear a mask or cloth face covering anywhere inside facilities at UT Dallas — and that includes classrooms. We have already got an order of masks on campus that we will distribute to faculty and staff members returning to campus. And in the fall, we will have — when the semester starts — we’ll have a limited supply of masks to hand out to students as well. I understand that the bookstore will also have masks available for sale, once the fall semester starts.
Martín (cont’d) (19:18):
Will we be performing temperature checks at every building?
Martín (cont’d) (19:20):
I can respond to that one as well. The answer is no. The nature of our campus and the nature of our buildings really does not lend itself to performing temperature checks. We would have to limit access to our buildings, and essentially create backups or queues at those entry points, which is exactly what we don’t want to do in this environment. We want to keep density as low as possible, and we are taking other measures to keep people safe while they’re on campus.
Martín (cont’d) (19:56):
Which is a good segue into the next question which I’ll direct to Dr. Jamison: what measures will the university take to reduce infection risks and to keep the campus safe?
Calvin Jamison (20:05):
Thank you, Rafael. Before I go on, I just want to acknowledge the group that never left campus: the facilities group and public safety individuals making sure that things are okay. Basically, we have an aggressive effort to clean the campus, daily cleaning of the classrooms and hallway spaces, and then all of the open spaces. We have a process in place to address that: between classes, we’ll be working hard to make sure we disinfect the campus as well. Making sure that there’s social distancing that’s adhered to, in terms of persons on campus. You mentioned earlier the supplies for faculty and staff. Indeed, we do have in place now — there are some cloth masks. So with each department that makes a decision to return to campus has a process in place by which you can pick up bottles of hand sanitation and reusable cloth mask for each faculty and staff member.
Jamison (cont’d) (21:05):
And then these sort of starter kits to help you with disinfecting, and wipes to assist you in your respective office space. In addition, there’s building signage, and the sign that says that throughout the campus itself, for each of the buildings, it reminds you to wear your masks, or you cannot enter the buildings in terms of what you do overall throughout the hallways as well. So all of that is being addressed. And then a couple other items that are important for us to understand: we will no longer have the Comet Cab service because of the social distancing issues. It will probably good for our wellness program, more people walking on campus overall. But in addition to that, we will assist students who need to have the accessible cabs, [which] will still be available in terms of we do.
Jamison (cont’d) (21:59):
The other thing that we’ll do to make sure that we address the safety issues is the dining services, food services. So all of our retail services we have on campus will be established such that you can use Tobor — our robots will be in full service, so you can order online. We do a lot of box meals in terms of what we’re doing, and limit the amount of contact that you have, but making sure that you do have access to food services on our campus itself. And that would be a large part of what we’re doing.
Thank you, Dr. Jamison. Next question: how do you plan to enforce the public safety guidelines/public health guidelines? Will someone be tasked with enforcement such as breaking up gatherings or groups?
Martín (cont’d) (22:47):
No, there’s not going to be a specific group or individuals that will be tasked for enforcing these guidelines. I think it’s important to emphasize that going into the fall semester, we are going to have to pull together and really develop some new habits as a campus and as a community. When you come back to campus, you will see a lot of signage — as Dr. Jamison mentioned — that will be branded Comets United: that is our outreach effort to our campus, to our faculty, staff, and students, to remind us that we all need to take action to protect each other while COVID-19 is still a threat. So it really will be everybody’s responsibility to make sure that people are following guidelines. We want people to politely ask if, say, you see somebody that doesn’t have a mask on in an indoor space, ask them if they have a mask. We will get them one. If we encounter individuals who refuse to follow the guidelines, they will be referred either — if they’re faculty or staff, their supervisor, or to the Dean of Students — first for counseling and some education about why these matters are important, why these guidelines are important. And if they persist, then into disciplinary proceedings. We’re going to take this very seriously, but it’s important to recognize that it’s everybody’s responsibility to protect each other in these times.
Martín (cont’d) (24:23):
The next question: have there been any confirmed cases on campus? If students, faculty, or staff have come into contact with COVID-19 or have tested positive while away from UT Dallas, will they be allowed on campus?
Martín (cont’d) (24:38):
I’ll answer the first part of this question, and then I think I’ll turn it over to Colleen Dutton, our chief human resources officer, to talk a little bit about screening and other measures we’re going to put in place for the fall. So the answer is yes: we have had five cases on campus. Interestingly enough, just over the past week and a half or so, three of the cases where students living in the University Village apartments, they were all roommates. So all of those cases are related. We had one student living off campus, but who was participating in clinical activities at the Callier Center in Dallas. And we had one member of one of our custodial contractor crews who tested positive. But those are the only reported cases on campus. Colleen, do you want to discuss some of our screening and other measures we’re going to take when we returned in the fall?
Colleen Dutton (25:34):
Yes. Thank you, Rafael. Good afternoon, everyone. Employees returning to the workplace will be asked to conduct symptom monitoring and complete a screening questionnaire daily before reporting to work. They must be free of any symptoms potentially related to COVID-19 before they can return to campus. We also have a designated COVID-19 health screening and training coordinator. Karlynda Poage will serve as the primary contact for employees and students to self-report or to discuss a confirmed case or ask questions or seek guidance. An email has been set up — that is C19Resource@utdallas.edu — that has been established to triage inquiries that we can either respond to or refer to the appropriate campus contacts. Anyone with a suspected or presumed positive case will be asked to self-isolate. Students that are in on-campus housing and are confirmed to have COVID-19 will be quarantined in single-occupancy apartments that have been reserved for this purpose. Any student cases will be managed between the coordinator and with the Office of Student Affairs. Information about confirmed cases on campus can be found on the COVID-19 website, under “Updates”. We’ll be sharing what information we can legally provide on that website.
Thank you, Colleen. The next question: why wasn’t the entire student body notified about the reported cases of COVID-19?
Martín (cont’d) (27:14):
I’m assuming this refers to the cases which I referenced earlier of the students living in University Village. For the existing positive cases, including the student who was at Callier Center, we didn’t feel that it was necessary to alert the entire campus because with the campus closed, we knew essentially who the infected individuals had been in contact with, and we were able to inform those groups. However, I will say that there is a section on our COVID-19 website where we list all positive cases on campus and you are welcome to refer to that. That said, I certainly expect as we bring students back to campus and open our campus facilities in the fall, you are going to see more general campus notifications about positive cases because we will just have to assume that people were multiple places on campus, and we won’t necessarily have known who they interacted with. But I think — as you will hear later from Dr. Musselman — everything that we are doing to prepare for the fall is to try to maintain social distancing and prevent people from coming into close contact with one another to minimize the risk. But we will be informing the campus as appropriate when we have positive cases in the fall.
Martín (cont’d) (28:40):
Will the university provide COVID-19 testing to faculty and staff returning to work in the fall?
Martín (cont’d) (28:45):
No, the university will not. We just do not have the resources or the capacity to do so. As Colleen mentioned, we’re going to focus on health screening and referring individuals as appropriate to their healthcare providers and/or the Student Health Center. My understanding is that the Student Health Center will have the capacity to do some COVID-19 testing. So students will have access to that capability.
Martín (cont’d) (29:15):
The next question, concerning personnel issues, I’m going to direct back to Colleen: what accommodations are available for those dealing with lack of childcare as they are asked to return to work?
Employees requested to report back to campus, but who may not have adequate childcare at home, should discuss these options with their supervisor to see if it’s possible for them to work remotely, or maybe have an alternative work schedule. And as a reminder, eligible employees may receive up to 80 hours of paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Act for childcare or personal healthcare needs. And you can find additional information about the act and the leave options via the UTD COVID-19 website. We have so much uncertainty with COVID-19 and the return to campus still ahead, and we are asking supervisors to be as flexible as possible. Employees may have additional caregiving responsibilities, childcare responsibilities, teaching responsibilities with their children. They may have other caregiver responsibilities with other family members due to limited resources and other restrictions that are in place. And so the Employee Relations team in HR is available to assist employees and managers with these discussions and also in assessing options that might be available. And you can contact the Employee Relations team at EmployeeRelations@utdallas.edu .
Thank you, Colleen. Moving onto a new topic, research, which I will direct to our vice president for research, Joe Pancrazio. Are PhD students allowed to access labs or offices on a regular basis in the coming months?
Joe Pancrazio (31:06):
Thank you, Rafael. Yes, graduate students are allowed to access research laboratories. Keep in mind, since May 26, we’ve had in place a limited return to research — at a level of about 25% — where individual graduate students can work with their PIs to reserve blocks of time to pursue onsite data collection. We recently expanded the available hours in lab to 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM, which allows additional opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to engage in laboratory work onsite. Now, the expectations for anyone returning to campus include completion of the daily health survey that Colleen and Rafael mentioned; use of our reservation system for check-in and check-out; and compliance with social distancing and other behaviors such as wearing face mask and maintaining good hand hygiene. I would also take the opportunity to remind everyone that anything that can be done remotely — such as data analysis, group meetings, meetings with your PI, or manuscript preparation — should continue to be performed remotely. Thank you.
Thank you, Joe. A follow-up question from the chat: are all research labs going to be open in the fall?
Yes. All research laboratories are available for opening. It’s up to the principal investigator about making available slots within the laboratory to conduct onsite research.
Very good. Thank you. Moving on to the topic of budgets, and refunds, and financial support. I’ll direct this question to our vice president for budget and finance, Terry Pankratz. What cuts are being considered, if any, in addition to those already announced?
Terry Pankratz (32:51):
Thanks for the question, Rafael. As you know, we’ve completed our initial round of budget reductions in anticipation of declining revenues in the fall semester. We’re in the early stages of discussing what additional reductions may be required if our efforts to maintain enrollment are not successful. If further reductions are necessary, our planning group is discussing a targeted approach to avoid marginalizing all program areas. As you might imagine, these are very difficult decisions. I want to stress that no decisions have been made regarding additional budget reductions, and that we will continue to monitor student registrations and our actions will corresponds to the magnitude of the enrollment decline.
Thank you, Terry. Another question: if someone is paid from outside sources — mainly grants — are they eligible to receive a salary increase for FY [fiscal year] ’21?
Sure. It’s a great question. I realize that many externally funded contracts often have guidelines that may vary from existing campus procedures, but all UTD employees are held to the same salary administration standards, regardless of funding source. So, once we reinstate salary increases, all UTD employees will again be eligible for salary increases.
Thank you. I believe this next question can be directed to Colleen: will there be offers of early retirement packages for staff?
There are no plans to offer early retirement packages at this time.
Okay. Thank you. Terry, back to you: are there plans for any other financial assistance to students beyond the CARES act and traditional financial aid?
At this time, nothing in addition to what we currently provided. But I do want to reiterate that we’ve provided federal CARES funding, we’ve provided financial assistance through gifts that have been raised for that purpose. We’ve also set aside university reserves to help provide student assistance during the spring and perhaps into the fall. We do have a comprehensive array of financial assistance available in UT Dallas, and I would encourage anyone to contact our financial aid office to learn what may be available for their needs.
Thank you, Terry. One final question, which was a very popular question submitted, I’m going to direct this to Dr. Benson: will tuition for online classes be discounted?
The short answer is no. Tuition will be the same for all classes, regardless of whether they are in-person, hybrid or online. I want to emphasize that we continue to provide the best educational experience possible. And one of the most critical elements of making this happen are our faculty and staff, and it is proper that they be paid for the professional work that they do.
Thank you, sir. Now I would like to move on to some questions about academics and classes in the fall. Obviously we’ve received a great number of questions about those topics, and I’m just going to direct a general question to our provost, Dr. Musselman. What, Dr. Musselman, can you tell us about the plan for fall classes and academics?
Rafael, thank you for the question. I would like to just talk to the group here about what our plans are for the Fall 2020 semester, and specifically talking about the Fall 2020 course schedule. There have been many conversations over the past two months with many groups — with faculty, staff and administrators, and a large number of questions with the academic continuity working group. And what has come out of all of these conversations is a framework for the Fall 2020 course schedule. And so I have a working draft of that framework that I expect to be complete within the week. And so I will share [with] you the basics that are aligned with this framework. So as a starting point, a point of introduction, the framework for the Fall 2020 courses is designed to accomplish four things. One is to deliver UT Dallas’ educational mission. Second is to provide maximum flexibility for faculty teaching and for student learning preferences. Third is to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considerations for institutes of higher education to slow the spread of COVID-19. And the fourth is to enable the campus to transition completely to remote learning with short notice if necessary.
Musselman (cont’d) (37:45):
The second part of the framework addresses the Fall 2020 academic calendar. And the proposed academic calendar comes out of the faculty survey where 74% of the faculty who responded to the survey preferred this particular calendar: and the calendar is that classes would begin on Monday, August 17th, as planned, as scheduled. The last day of classes would be Wednesday, November 25th, the day before Thanksgiving. And that all final exams, both take home and online, would be scheduled after Thanksgiving. So this is the calendar that we are leaning towards at this point. And I’m currently taking the steps with the calendar committee and the registrar to hopefully finalize this calendar. There are some university expectations in the classrooms and instructional laboratories, and Rafael talked about some of these earlier. All occupants of rooms that will be used for classrooms and laboratory instruction must wear face coverings and maintain six-foot social distancing at all times. In the last several weeks, the office of facilities has been looking at each classroom and revising the maximum occupancy of these classrooms, according to six-foot social distancing guidelines.
Musselman (cont’d) (39:18):
So the work has been completed for the one-10 classrooms — those are the standard classrooms that have tables and chairs in them — and they are currently underway for the two-10 classrooms. Those are classrooms with special equipment; for example, for arts performance or for instructional laboratories. And facilities is also looking at a few large rooms that are not currently used as classrooms, but may be used as classrooms in the fall. What we’ve learned so far for the one-10 classrooms is it the social distance capacity ranges from 14% to 16% of normal capacity. And that really depends on the configuration of the furniture in the room. Students will occupy the classroom seats that conform to these guidelines and other seating will be removed or clearly marked to not be used.
Musselman (cont’d) (40:17):
Another aspect of this framework has to do with faculty teaching preference. So the mode of instruction for individual classes will be determined per consultations between the classroom instructor and appropriate administrators at the program and school levels, considering pedagogical concerns, student enrollment, space requirements, and classroom configurations, space availability, and instructor needs and preferences. Instructors at every rank and status will have a range of options to choose from, ranging from the traditional classroom or laboratory course to the fully online course. And I will describe these options in a few minutes. In addition, as already announced by the university, all classes must include an option for students to take the class remotely and to do so asynchronously.
Musselman (cont’d) (41:14):
Another part of the framework addresses academic advising and notification to students. As you know, students are currently registering for courses, according to the published Fall 2020 course schedule. Over the next few weeks, the course schedule will be updated to list the modality of each core section. In July, the register will notify each student by email of any changes in the modality of their scheduled courses. And students will then be able to make changes once the course schedule is updated. The next section of the framework has to do with student choices of classes. Students will choose among courses available in the following modalities, and may elect to have their course load include more than one modality.
Musselman (cont’d) (42:06):
So we are planning for offering courses in five course modalities. So I’d like to list them and give brief definitions. The first is the traditional classroom or the traditional laboratory course. We would also call this face-to-face. In this mode, the instructor and students are present in the classroom or laboratory each class meeting according to the class schedule. The availability of courses in this modality will likely be limited due to classroom availability. A second modality is what we would call a blended or hybrid classroom course, in which online activity is mixed with face-to-face meetings in the classrooms. The instructor and students meet all together face-to-face one or two days a week, and these face-to-face meetings are then accompanied by online instruction.
Musselman (cont’d) (43:02):
A third modality is called flexible mode course — or you may have heard the term HyFlex — blended learning. In this modality, online activity is mixed with classroom face-to-face meetings. Specifically, UT Dallas is implementing a student group rotation model wherein faculty delivere instruction face-to-face during each class meeting, and students attend lecture face-to-face one day per week. So students will attend class online with synchronous — that is, real time — transmission of the lecture when they are not in the classroom face-to-face. A fourth modality is what we would term remote or virtual course. These are lectures delivered online in real time, according to the day and time in the class schedule. In other words, they’re delivered synchronously. In this mode, the instructor lectures from home or from the office and students complete the course at a distance. I would note that these courses really are traditional classroom courses that faculty would be offering virtually in the Fall 2020 semester, similarly to the way in which they were offered at the end of the spring semester.
Musselman (cont’d) (44:22):
And then the fifth modality is the fully online course. These are courses that are designed with the truly distant student in mind, and students complete these courses at a distance. So those are the five course modalities. I want to talk a little bit then about asynchronous access and then synchronous access. So asynchronous access just means “not in real time”. So all courses, regardless of the modality, will have an asynchronous access that is not in real time, so that students who cannot or choose not to return to campus and take their courses online. For all courses, syllabus, course assignments, lecture, recordings, and so forth will be posted in eLearning so that they can be accessed by students outside of scheduled class time. By incorporating asynchronous access into every course, faculty and students will be prepared for transition off campus if required by COVID-19.
Musselman (cont’d) (45:27):
And this is really important. This is the reason why we’re asking every course have this asynchronous access. We have to be ready. We have to be flexible. We have to be able to pivot and turn off campus, really on a moment’s notice if necessary, and to be able to continue to deliver our education to the students. Synchronous access refers to learning in real time. So we will have available to us Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Stream, in combination with web cameras. They will be used in classroom instruction to allow students to attend class sessions synchronously and remotely. Lectures will be recorded for asynchronous access and in compliance with ADA regulations, including voice-to-text captioning. Now, with regards to scheduling guidelines for lecture courses: the deans and the unit heads will soon be consulting with their faculty to learn of the faculty’s preferred teaching modality— or modalities, if the faculty are teaching more than one course — and the deans and unit heads will then report this information to the registrar. Consideration will be given to the school’s priorities for courses offered in the traditional classroom course modality, as well as in the fully online course modality — those are the two extremes — and in consultation with educational technology services to prioritize the development of new fully online courses. When updating the Fall 2020 course schedule, the registrar will take into consideration student enrollment, space requirements and classroom configurations, space availability and instructor needs and preferences. Each modality or the modality for each course and for each section will be noted in the course schedule. Once the revised schedule is set, the registrar will notify each student by email of any changes in the modality of their scheduled courses. And this will allow the students to have the option of being able to make changes to their schedules. One thing that we are looking at right now is because of the restrictions and occupancy placed by six foot social distancing guidelines, it is likely that courses with more than 120 enrolled students will need to be offered either in the remote or virtual course mode or the fully online mode. And this simply has to do with the reduced occupancy in these larger lecture halls, which have fixed table and fixed seats furniture.
Musselman (cont’d) (48:27):
I expect to add to this framework in the coming days: scheduling guidelines for laboratory courses. This is the piece of the framework that’s currently missing. The guidelines for the laboratory courses will be added once the Office of Facilities completes their determination of the social distancing capacities of our two-10 classrooms. Rafael? Thank you.
Thank you, Inga, for that very thorough review. I think that answered most of the questions we had received about courses and academics in the fall. Before we move on to our next topic, I want to circle back [to] a couple of questions that have come in through the chat. The first one I will direct to Dr. Benson: can we know why UT Dallas wasn’t given Juneteenth off? There are many companies and universities both within Texas and outside Texas that were given this day off.
Thanks, Rafael. Actually, Colleen Dutton can back me up on this one, but in fact we do have Juneteenth off. But it’s one of several holidays throughout the year which we cluster at the end of the calendar year. So that winter break, you know, around Christmas, New Year’s Day when we cluster a bunch of days off, we have actually drawn them from other days throughout the year. For some number of years in the state of Texas we have had you know, a holiday, not on Juneteenth, but in celebration of Juneteenth. And Colleen, can you add or correct anything that I just said?
No, that is correct. And people can look at the holiday list as posted online and see which holidays that we use to apply towards winter break so that we can have a longer winter break. And we do that with a variety of the holidays: LBJ birthday, Confederate Heroes Day, Juneteenth — I’m drawing a blank — San Jacinto Day. So, there’s several that we apply to winter break.
Very good. Thank you both. Dr. Jamison, a follow-up question for you: you mentioned the Tobor food delivery robots. Will the robots be sanitized, and on what schedule?
They’d be thoroughly sanitized after each delivery. Auxiliary services, working with the vendors, are working on the best process to address that. So each deliver that’ll come back will be sanitized.
Very good. Thank you, sir. And one more for Colleen. The question is: did Colleen say that all employees must monitor their health daily?
Yes, I did say that—and so those who are coming to campus. If you’re not coming into campus, then you will not be required to complete the daily health assessment, but if you are reporting to campus, you will be required to do so. The Office of Research is piloting this program right now. So it’s very limited access now. We do have a small group in JSOM that are also completing the daily health assessments, but it will be rolled out campus-wide as people return to campus.
Very good. Thank you, Colleen. So I’d like to move on to the next group of questions that have to do with on campus housing and student life in the fall — and I’ll direct these primarily to Dr. Fitch. The first question: if I decide to take the option of staying home in the fall, would I have on campus housing for the spring? Can I pay for Spring 2021 semester only?
Gene Fitch (52:06):
Okay. The answer to that question is you would be unable to pay for your spring semester in advance. However, you can contact the housing office to transfer your housing application to this spring; but unfortunately we cannot guarantee that we would have spring housing available for you.
Very good. A related question: I’m an out-of-state student and I have already signed up for Canyon Creek housing. However, I will probably be choosing the online option. If I don’t need housing anymore for the fall, what do I do?
Right. Good question. And similar to the previous answer, we would need you to contact University housing office and notify them of your decision. And you can do that through the housing email address: that’s email@example.com .
Very good. Due to uncertainty related to COVID-19, will the cancellation dates for housing be extended so that students who need to cancel fall housing won’t be penalized?
Okay. The cancellation dates will remain the same, but we also understand that this is a very unique situation. So if a student cancels their housing, we will work with them on an individual basis. So again, we will have you contact housing and we’ll work with you on that.
Very good. The next question may be directed to Calvin: for students who will not be on campus and who have a meal plan, will that meal plan be refunded?
It’s similar to the way it’s set up now. The answer is yes, the short answer. But for most students who live on campus who live in a residence hall, they have to have a meal plan. So nothing changes in that regard.
Okay. Thank you, sir. Next question for Dr. Fitch: our airport pickup volunteers want to know what the protocol is for quarantining international students or other students flying into Dallas to attend the university? Do they need to quarantine? Does it need to be done by the airport or other location? Is this or is it not a requirement?
Okay. Another good question. So if a student arrives from a country that’s identified as high risk, they’ll be expected to quarantine and we are making arrangements to identify off campus facilities for students who may need to isolate. So that would be I guess the easiest answer to this very difficult question.
Very good. Thank you, Gene. A question on student life: will the school allow on-campus organizations to meet and have meetings as they used to, or will there be rules regarding those types of events?
Okay. It is our intention to hold events on campus this fall, but we will follow guidance from local state and federal agencies to ensure compliance with social distancing protocols. Additionally, we’re exploring ways to expand our virtual programming and services for all, so looking for guidance from those agencies on allowing spectators to attend our athletic events. So we are going into the fall with every intention to hold events, but again, under strict social distancing protocols.
Very good. A question for Dr. Jamison about bus service: how will the bus schedules be affected by extra cleaning precautions? How much of a delay can riders expect?
That’s a very good question. At present, we’re working with DART regarding the fall schedule and it appears at present that based on the cleaning schedule, it’s probably delayed about 10 minutes. At present, that turnaround is about every 30 minutes, so it may be a little longer in order to allow us to sanitize the buses. In addition, if you want to ride the bus, you must have a mask or you will be asked to — at present, we’re trying to make it so that you don’t have a mask, for the first couple of days we may have some available for you, but after that you need to have a mask to get on the bus.
Very good. Thank you, Calvin. Before we move on to the final sections of questions that we received through email, just one more follow-up question from the chat, and I will direct this one to Dr. Musselman: if a student starts out in person, would they have an option — I’m assuming “in class” in person — would they have an option to transition to online if they or a family member becomes sick and they wanted to continue their education?
Hello Rafael. I think as I mentioned earlier, every class, every class section will have an asynchronous component. So if a student needs to pull back from class and continue to take the class online in an asynchronous fashion, they can do that.
Very good. Thank you for the clarification. Moving on to our final couple of sections of questions as we’re getting close to our hour, I will direct these back to Dr. Benson. The first relates to commencement ceremonies. Are there any plans for Fall 2020 commencement ceremonies? Will they still happen? Will they be postponed?
Well, thanks Rafael. We are still determining how we can honor our graduating students and practice appropriate social distancing; and as always, we will consult with local state and federal agencies in the best way to celebrate while also focusing on the wellbeing of our community and guests. And I would say, you know, there will come a day when we have that vaccine and better treatment for the coronavirus, and I eagerly wait that day, which will then allow us to get back to the normal sorts of celebrations and protocols we have on campus.
A related question about from a doctoral student: will doctoral candidates — and I’m assuming other graduates — who have missed hooding ceremonies or graduation ceremonies be able to participate in those ceremonies in the future?
Absolutely. That is such a special ceremony. I wouldn’t deny it to anybody. So we don’t know when we can get back to doing that, but whenever we do, I would welcome every one of our new PhDs and their advisors, you know, to participate in the ceremony. It’s one of the most interesting and enjoyable things that we do on campus.
Very good. A final couple of questions about the spring semester: will spring classes officially be all in person? And have we decided about housing and dining options for the full academic year, if we aren’t sure about the classes in the spring?
Well, this will resemble the question I just gave about commencement. Much depends on our ability to fight off the COVID-19 disease. So if we’re in the same situation as we are now, then I think the Spring 2021 semester will look an awful lot like the Fall 2020. As I say, there will come a day when we have a vaccine and we can start to return to—well, transition into what we would call the new normal, which will allow greater social gathering.
Very good. Well, that concludes all the questions that we have. I know we have some more questions in the chat, but we have consumed the hour that we have scheduled for this event. As Dr. Benson mentioned in his opening remarks, we will try to get to all of those questions offline, but at this time I would like to turn it back to Dr. Benson for some closing words.
Well, thank you, Rafael. Thanks to everybody who participated. Thanks again to Academic Senate, Staff Council and Student Government for being the sponsors of this town hall. I really appreciate the opportunity to engage with the UTD community. I want to thank everybody who supplied a question. It was a great array. It helps focus our thinking and to know what we need to be addressing at UTD. As you can all appreciate, there is still a great deal of uncertainty, you know, in the nation, in the world right now. And we’re trying to find the best path forward that we can. And one that allows us to act on the core mission of this university, which is to educate some very fine students. So we want to do that.
Benson (cont’d) (1:00:42):
We want to be back in session. We want to get back to our lives on campus. But again, we’re going to take every precaution that is necessary and we’re going to be flexible. I hope that we see some fine developments in the future that allow us to act with greater confidence, that we’re going to be healthy and safe. And if things trend in the wrong direction, then we will react to that as well. But, you know, we’re doing the very best we can to keep UTD running this wonderful university of ours. And I want to echo something that I said at the very beginning, which is thank you to everybody: faculty, staff, and students. You know, since about March, maybe even before that, we’ve all been reacting to something quite extraordinary in our lives. And, in my opinion, no one has done it better than UT Dallas. So, as we continue to fight our way forward, again I want to thank you all for everything that you’re doing to make UT Dallas successful. And we look forward to getting back together in some fashion this fall at our beautiful campus. So thanks everybody.