Planning for our future

June 5, 2020

Dear Members of the Johns Hopkins Community:

In the weeks since we wrote regarding the university’s planning process in the face of COVID-19, our community has witnessed and experienced the extraordinary pain caused by racial injustice and violence, borne especially by our Black students, faculty, and staff, against the continued backdrop of a global pandemic that has taken far too many lives and disrupted so many more.

It is difficult in this moment to think about anything but the anguish in the world around us. Yet we also know that the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 is an added strain for many. With that in mind, we write today to update you further on where the JHU Planning effort stands.

As you know from these updates, the process for planning for the resumption of university activities is well underway. Our goal is to prepare for the return of our students, faculty, and staff to our campuses in ways, and on timelines, that are safe and prudent.

In undertaking this comprehensive planning exercise, we have benefited enormously from the counsel and advice received from a broad array of community members. Indeed, to date, more than 5,000 members of our community have shared their ideas and insights in weekly town halls that have addressed the complexities of resuming research and instruction, the array of new health and safety protocols we are adopting, and the phasing of low-, medium-, and high-density activities against the arc of the pandemic. Further, we appreciate the hundreds of online comments we have received and incorporated into the draft planning documents that have been distributed. We also want to express appreciation to the many faculty, staff, and student members who are serving on more than 20 subject-specific planning groups.

Throughout these consultations it has come as no surprise that there is a wide range of expectations, hopes, and fears about our plans for the future, with some members of our community eager to return as soon as possible and others understandably unsettled about what it will mean to emerge from this period of seclusion and be together again. Decisions that were once routine—where one teaches, the organization of a lab environment, or choosing housing and dining plans—now require deeper analysis, both individually and collectively.

In our deliberations, we are pushing ourselves to plan for the broadest range of what may be possible in terms of the resumption of in-person activities during each phase of the pandemic. We are doing this so that we have ample scope for determining the maximum amount of activity we can support through an array of external circumstances. We recognize that this is a tall order, but we believe that our community has the ambition, the expertise, and the spirit to take this on.

This week we are especially encouraged by the state of Maryland’s recent executive order, which sets the stage for a resumption of our Phase 1 research activities as soon as we get the green light from Baltimore City and are fully prepared with respect to the safety protocols outlined in the posted drafts of our Research Phase 1 Guidance and Return to Campus Guide planning documents. More information will be forthcoming regarding a specific date for research to restart at Johns Hopkins.

In parallel with our focus on research, we also are deeply exploring multiple scenarios for the resumption of academic and student life for the fall semester. The issues and options under consideration by the university and each of our schools are set forth in the draft Return to Campus Instructional Guidelines, posted yesterday.

In sum, this is what we know right now:

  • Johns Hopkins will be open for some form of both academic instruction and student life this fall. Our goal is to post a detailed plan in draft by the end of June for your comment and feedback, and then a final plan by mid-July.
  • For any students who aren’t able to return to campus, we will be flexible and supportive in ensuring that you have opportunities to continue your academic progress and pursue your educational goals.
  • All or most courses will be available in online or virtual modalities, and we will make significant investments in training, technology, and development of additional video studios to enhance the quality of the educational offerings students expect from a Hopkins academic experience.
  • We will offer as many opportunities as we can, subject to social distancing and other public health requirements, for in-person instruction, co-curricular experiences, and residential living. To achieve this safely, we are engaged in a detailed and careful assessment of facilities across all our campuses, indoors and out, classroom by classroom, lab by lab, and office by office to determine the safe capacity. We are cautiously optimistic that this exercise will result in our being able to resume a meaningful portion of our on-campus undergraduate, graduate, and professional educational activities.
  • Academic schedules and campus operations will be adjusted to optimize for safe academic offerings, and at the same time studios and other facilities will be prepared for high-quality remote instruction where in-person classes are not as effective or feasible, whether for pedagogical reasons or for the health needs of individual faculty. The studio option means, for instance, that an individual faculty member could teach in a well-equipped location that will be cleaned between uses and will require minimal, if any, direct contact with other people.

Even as we pursue this ambitious approach to being together on campus this fall, we also recognize that the course of the pandemic is unpredictable and that we must prepare for the possibility that our plans may change at any time. We may, for instance, resume our on-campus instructional activities in the late summer/fall, only to be confronted at some later point with a significant surge of COVID-19 infection in or around our campus, and this will require us to suspend on-campus activities immediately. Alternatively, we may be spared another significant wave of infections and be able to complete the semester without incident.In any event, we will ensure that you are kept well-informed and allow for as much time as possible to plan and implement any needed shift in direction.

Over the past several months, we, along with the deans of each of our schools and leaders across the university, have worked closely and deliberatively to make the difficult financial, operational, and programmatic decisions that are steering the university through the myriad challenges posed by the pandemic. The test we have used to evaluate each proposed course of action is always the same: How can we best discharge our obligation to serve as faithful stewards of the academic, research, clinical, and service mission of the university?

In the coming weeks and months, we believe that in addition to the myriad of university and divisional workgroups, the academic issues that are implicated by the pandemic would benefit greatly from the ongoing advice and perspective of faculty colleagues, and so we are convening an ad hoc University Pandemic Academic Advisory Committee that will consist of university leaders (president, provost, senior vice president for finance and administration, and deans) and representatives drawn from each of the school-level elected and academic bodies, as well as from the Faculty Budget Advisory Committee and Diversity Leadership Council. The first meeting of this committee will be held next week.

Finally, we have heard the questions and concerns of faculty and staff regarding the economic impact of the pandemic on our university finances, and the decisions made in order to put the university on the strongest possible foundation to weather the pressures we have and will continue to confront. As you know, a comprehensive and detailed memorandum was previously shared with you that outlines the financial context and rationale for these decisions. We welcome the opportunity for further discussion on these matters and are scheduling an additional town hall meeting next Wednesday, June 10 for faculty and staff to pose questions, raise concerns, or seek clarification of our budgetary decisions. Details and a link will be shared through Today’s Announcements and posted on the Discussions and Forums page of the Planning website.

We strongly encourage, and benefit profoundly, from your continuing engagement and feedback. Your participation and leadership have already shown that our community brings an exceptional sense of purpose, courage, and determination to bear upon this challenge.

Thank you for helping us to imagine and to be better, always.

Please stay safe,

Ronald J. Daniels
President

Sunil Kumar
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Daniel Ennis
Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration