COVID-19 Update: Chancellor Lesa Roe and UNT World Presidents Look Ahead

Monday, May 11, 2020

UNT System Faculty & Staff:

We are 10 days into Gov. Abbott’s phased approach to safely reopen Texas businesses and many of you have questions about what this means for the University of North Texas System and our member institutions. Candidly, we will never go back to the workplace that we left before coronavirus stay-at-home mandates. It’s a new reality and one that the UNT System and our member institutions are preparing for.

While this situation remains fluid as coronavirus circumstances evolve, below is an update of what we know and where we are headed as a unified UNT System.

Thank you for your hard work and adaptability.

While the Governor is using the term “reopen,” the UNT System and its member institutions have never closed. We may be fulfilling our missions a bit differently during the COVID-19 pandemic, but our commitment to students hasn't missed a beat. Across our system, faculty and staff have done an incredible job maintaining focus on keeping our students in a safe environment, and that will remain our top priority as we continue to navigate these challenging times. Your diligent efforts in this unprecedented time are appreciated.

Planning for a new reality.

Life in Texas has changed dramatically over the past several weeks. With thousands of businesses forced to close or operate minimally, more than 1.8 million Texans applied for unemployment in March and April alone – that’s more than all of 2019. With an economic downturn that many economists expect to be our country’s worst since the Great Depression, our system and institutions must make sustainable changes to modernize our organizations and best serve students efficiently and effectively in this new world.

In responsibly planning the immediate future, our leadership teams have spent significant hours preparing to safely begin reopening aspects of UNT World. A cross-institutional team of experts from our institutions and system headquarters are meeting daily and holding regular discussions with our Presidents and me on operational details for summer and fall. Guided by safety protocols, our campuses and offices will look vastly different – truly, we are “reinventing” the UNT System, not “reopening.”

As part of our long-term planning, we have formed an additional cross-institutional team to analyze business processes, organizational structures, and strategic sourcing efforts to help us find sustainable ways to thrive over the long term. From an economic standpoint, we are planning responsibly based on the latest estimates of financial impact and creating budget plans based on multiple scenarios. While enrollment for the fall is increasing, we continue to run financial models to understand negative impacts from potential losses in enrollment of both domestic and international students, student housing/dining fees, intercollegiate athletics revenue, summer camps, and state funding.

Thus far, plans for summer and fall look like this:

Face-to-Face Operations Guidance:

  • The overall strategy for a physical return to the workplace will be gradual and driven by our business needs and the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. At all times, the strategy will be focused on minimizing risk, while simultaneously optimizing our performance and the services we provide to our institutions. With this in mind, physical interaction will be minimized and the safety of the physical environment will be maximized.

Academics and Research:

  • While the vast majority of summer classes will be delivered remotely, all of our campuses will begin to gradually re-open in some capacity this summer.
  • Academic programming this fall will be delivered through a hybrid model that includes both in-person and remote coursework. Specific details on academic planning will be forthcoming in the near future from our institutions.
  • Research initiatives will gradually begin to resume this summer through a phased process.
  • Our approach to returning faculty and staff to their offices will be phased, based on job duties and needs. This will be clearly communicated as we further solidify plans, but until that time, all team members that are currently working remotely will continue to do so until their supervisor instructs otherwise.  

Protective Equipment, Safety Measures, and Sanitization:

  • Significant safety/sanitization precautions will be taken – this includes protocols for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and precautionary isolation of individuals that may have been exposed to the virus.
  • Masks will likely be required during person-to-person interactions in our facilities, and some roles will require additional PPE.
  • Our buildings will be deep-cleaned frequently and will have signage installed to provide clear safety guidelines.
  • Flow plans for foot traffic will be created using one-way corridors when possible, and maximum elevator capacities will be established and monitored.
  • Classrooms, offices, common spaces and residence halls will be reconfigured to allow for appropriate social distancing.
We are essential to economic recovery in Texas.

This disruption presents us all with an opportunity to do things differently and create a bright future. The Presidents and I must not only make changes to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are firmly committed to finding sustainable opportunities to better serve our students and help drive recovery in our region and state.

We will be more agile and responsive. We will find new, innovative ways to conduct research and serve students, as well as serve businesses and communities in recovery. We are entering a new era for higher education and will emerge as leaders by embracing change and using it as a catalyst for ideas that will shape the future.

Additional details on all the elements listed above will be announced in coming weeks. While a high degree of uncertainty remains with coronavirus, we will adapt our plans as necessary and remain flexible. Above all, we are committed to fulfilling our missions and maintaining safe communities for our students, faculty, and staff.

Thank you,
Lesa Roe signature
Lesa Roe