Fall plans to flatten the curve

Dear Texas Woman’s Colleagues,

I have been moving about the Denton campus over the past week greeting warm, familiar faces and meeting eager new ones. The energy for the coming semester is as palpable as ever. But, I also know the rising wave of COVID-19 cases has cast a dark cloud over our enthusiasm.

During the early days of the pandemic, I adopted a mantra: stay fluid! We have all exercised fluidity over the past 18 months, and it seems we will have to continue doing so. Starting the semester in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world is going to take some extra effort to continue keeping our community safe, but like a river we will keep flowing ahead.

Face-to-face classes

If we had any doubt before, we have none now: face-to-face classes engage residential and commuter students, supporting persistence and graduation rates. Now, some—students, faculty, and staff—are also anxious about personal and family safety in our current Texas environment. You, our faculty, have demonstrated incredible innovation and creativity during this past year. I trust that you know what is best for your students and your setting, so I want to empower you with more flexibility to reduce density during these first three weeks of classes—a timeline informed by modeling. Rather than pivoting to fully online teaching and learning, I hope you will find ways to safely engage your students in person at least once a week. I know this is not possible in every situation, but where it is, small changes could have a big impact. Provost Kapinus will send a follow-up message to her division with further details. The crux is to give you more autonomy here at the beginning of the semester as one more tool to help “flatten the curve.”

Community of Immunity Challenge

On Wednesday, The New York Times published “See the Data on Breakthrough Covid Hospitalizations and Deaths by State” from which I have pulled the line for Texas. Across the states, the evidence is clear: the vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe illness and death.

 

  State

Breakthrough hospitalizations

As a percentage of all COVID hospitalizations

Breakthrough deaths

As a percentage of all COVID deaths

  Texas

291

0.2%

52

0.4%

To encourage vaccinations, we have devised a Community of Immunity Challenge (employee links still in development), which will award prizes as we reach the 70-, 80- and 90-percent vaccination rates. We have more than $150,000 in tuition scholarships, laptops, parking passes and other prizes.

While I ask that you wear masks indoors until we “flatten the curve” again and implore you to get vaccinated so we can eradicate this virus soon, I cannot mandate you do either. What I can require is testing. So I have proposed a program where faculty, staff, and students who come on campus are tested, weekly, though we are still negotiating the details. Those who have been vaccinated would be exempt.

Vaccinations save lives, protect individuals who are unable to receive the vaccination such as children and those who are immunocompromised, and mitigates the plethora of heart-wrenching ripple effects we saw last year. Let us join together and do our part.

Meetings

We have learned a lot about ways to leverage technology to be more inclusive. We also learned how much we miss seeing each other IRL. For fall assembly, I am making an effort to be inclusive while still offering the meeting in person. I am asking people to wear masks indoors and hosting the breakfast outdoors. In essence, I encourage you to find ways to employ safety guidelines: reduce density, wear masks, interact outdoors, and use technology.

Staff accommodations

I understand staff concerns about COVID-19 also span the spectrum. We have established mechanisms to seek accommodations should you have a need, but I also recommend you talk with your supervisor about your concerns and the options available to you. I have seen first hand how much our on-campus presence supports one another in meaningful albeit intangible ways. Some of you have shared with me how being on campus renews your spirit and gives you courage to face the challenges that we must overcome, which ultimately leads to greater student success.

Reporting and contact tracing

We continue to update our coronavirus website with useful information. For example, you can find the reporting form there should you ever test positive for COVID-19, are exposed to someone who tests positive, or begin to exhibit symptoms. Risk Management staff continue to follow CDC guidance on contact tracing. Keeping seating charts in class can drastically reduce their work as well as the numbers of students who need to quarantine when a student tests positive.

Ongoing monitoring

My cabinet members and I interact with our peers at institutions across the state. We share promising practices and tailor practice we borrow from others for our community. In short, we keep our ears to the ground. Throughout the pandemic, we have met at least weekly with Risk Management staff to share data, evaluate metrics, assess media reports, and update strategy and policy. We will continue until this pandemic has run its course. I want to offer a huge thanks to those of you who take these policy decisions and implement resulting tactics. The details are essential.

I hope this message leaves you encouraged and empowered—encouraged to know that we are paying attention and that the science shows there is hope for ending this pandemic with existing tools; and empowered to do what you can be it through vaccination, mask wearing, testing, or altering your pedagogy as we kickoff another semester of promise.

Thank you for doing all you can to make Texas Woman’s the most vibrant community of teachers, scholars, creatives, leaders, makers, and service-minded individuals I have ever seen. Together, we shall overcome—and boldly go!

With a pioneering spirit,

Carine M. Feyten, Ph.D.
Chancellor and President

Page last updated 10:20 PM, August 15, 2021