COVID-19 message

March 22, 2020

Dear students, staff and faculty,

Tomorrow morning, we will end our extended spring break. When students return to classes, things will look much different than they did less than three short weeks ago.

As we restart the spring semester, our university communities, like those throughout our state, now must study, work, live and play differently. These new conditions bring new responsibilities for all of us, and a new way to serve our friends, neighbors and colleagues.

For Alaskans, that means avoiding long-distance travel, even within the state. It means that if you were already traveling outside Alaska and return home, you must self-quarantine for 14 days to protect each other and ourselves.

In communities throughout Alaska, that means taking seriously the directions of local government and staying home unless absolutely necessary.

At UAA, UAF, UAS and our community campuses across the state, it means observing our community restrictions. That includes staying home if you are ill and calling your medical provider for guidance. It means avoiding gatherings of more than 10, and practicing social distancing consistently, even in those smaller gatherings. The consequences of not doing these things can be literally life and death for others and yourself.

We will soon be seeing more positive tests in Alaska, and some of our colleagues and friends becoming ill. I am confident the university’s students and employees will be ready to perform critical work to ensure the safety of our campus community, to offer support to those directly affected and to be a partner in service to our larger communities and our state.

The chancellors and I met with the Board of Regents on Friday to update them on our progress, and I shared an oft-repeated adage, “may you live in interesting times.” Whether that is a blessing or a curse is open to interpretation, however, these interesting times have spurred a truly inspiring level of community throughout our universities. The regents expressed their deep appreciation for all that our students, faculty, and staff are doing to prepare the way ahead.

Staff and faculty have worked tirelessly to implement steps needed to prepare our communities, to manage this unprecedented situation and to keep us focused on our core missions of teaching, research and service. Students have shown amazing flexibility and resilience and have been valuable partners in our efforts.

Our student services teams stepped up to take on the herculean task of helping students move out of their residence halls and back to their permanent homes or other dispersed housing. They shipped books and belongings, managed move-outs and calmed understandable anxieties.

Our university leaders were determined to remove fiscal barriers to students, and quickly provided financial support for travel and created a mechanism to refund the balance of housing, dining and graduation fees.

Our faculty members and e-learning professionals have joined together in an uphill sprint to convert hundreds of courses to distance delivery modes that will allow our now far-flung students to continue their studies. Colleagues in information technology and finance joined forces on a connectivity stipend for employees. They’ve encouraged and identified new free internet connectivity options for students and employees. And they have developed a rich array of helpful resources for learning, teaching and working from home at the UA virtual campus website.

Our dining halls have shifted to pick-up service. Our janitorial teams have ramped up cleaning. Our employees are learning to work from home. Our scientists are applying social distancing to their research work. And our HR team has made sure our “work from home” and paid leave policies are clear and up to date.

Time and time again over the last several weeks, when faced with yet another new challenge, employees and students have been ready with “OK, let’s make this work.” Thank you, for your perpetual spirit of service.

Welcome back to the university. We still have rough waters ahead.  As we navigate them, I want you to know I’m proud of what we have accomplished, and will accomplish, together.

Jim Johnsen