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April 29, 2020

Dear UVM Community, As we, and colleges and universities across the country, approach the end of a semester the likes of which we have never seen, we now face questions about the potential impact COVID-19 may have on fall operations.  We approach these questions using the philosophy that has guided the University of Vermont since its founding in 1791:  gather information and insight, assess it in a way that is balanced and pragmatic, and chart a course that we can follow together.

Over recent weeks and months, we have consulted closely and regularly with Governor Scott, the Department of Health, and our own public health experts.  We have monitored “the curve” here and elsewhere.  We have consulted with colleagues on campus and at other educational institutions.  We are deeply engaged in scenario-planning regarding a potential return of the virus, and preparations to protect our campus and all who learn, teach, and work here, as well as our broader community.

Based on information currently available, I am confident UVM will be able to return to in-person status in Fall 2020.

We will continue to prepare for an in-person campus in a way that is responsible and informed by the best science and by our public health experts, in collaboration and consultation with our state government and Department of Health.  Return to an in-person campus will require more testing, tracing, and improved protocols developed through collaboration across sectors and around the globe.  And it will require additional precautions on campus, in our classrooms, and in our residence halls and dining facilities.

We have several months before students, new and returning, will be back on our beautiful campus.  That gives us time to complete the careful preparations we already have begun.  We are eager and excited to greet you again, but we do so with the understanding that we must prepare—this time in advance—to meet challenges that will arise should the virus reappear in the fall.  Here are reasons for my confidence in our readiness for fall.

First, members of our UVMStrong—Fall 2020 Advisory Committee are conducting a broad review of factors related to future operations.  The committee is working with medical and public health experts, will consult with deans, faculty, students, staff, and others, and will advise me on a full scope of possible measures to protect the health of our campus community.  This includes developing a set of plans to help enable us to maintain an in-person campus, while still protecting our community and remaining compliant with government and public health directives.

Second, Governor Scott and Vermont’s state leadership have demonstrated a scientifically grounded and thoughtful approach to the COVID-19 crisis.  As a result, we flattened the curve in Vermont even as some states have struggled.  To accomplish this, the state coordinated with multiple entities, including the University of Vermont, to develop a comprehensive pandemic response.  This proficiency—and openness to collaboration—positions us well should there be a future outbreak.

Third, as has been noted by a broad range of experts, our ability to maintain “normal” operations will require ongoing testing and contact tracing, especially as we await the development and testing of a vaccine.  Access to our Larner College of Medicine and College of Nursing and Health Sciences serves as a great advantage in this work, as do our experts on digital technology and ethics, and our close relationship with the Vermont Department of Health.

It is all but certain that cultural and behavioral shifts will be required as we navigate a world changed by COVID-19.  The bottom line is that ongoing education is critical, not just on an individual level, but to our state, nation, and society as a whole.  Education is a driver of innovation, economic development, and self-determination.  These are things we need now, perhaps more than we ever have before.  I am certain that UVM’s collective spirit as an educational community will see us through the next phase of this crisis together.

I look forward to seeing you—in person—this fall.

Suresh Garimella
University of Vermont President

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