Update: Enhanced measures at UM to prevent spread of COVID-19

March 17, 2020

To the members of the UM family,

As communities across the country continue to deal with COVID-19, I write to provide an update on the additional steps we are taking as a University to prevent further spread of the virus and to protect the health and safety of our community.  

I would like to thank each and every member of the UM family — students, staff and faculty — for their extraordinary efforts to navigate what has been and will continue to be a complex and rapidly changing situation. Over the past days and weeks, I have been humbled and amazed by our community’s creativity, hard work and spirit of shared purpose. I am honored to be a part of this team.

This update will cover several important topics:

  • Continuity of University operations and remote work
  • Academic operations for the remainder of the spring semester
  • University Research and Creative Scholarship
  • UM Summer
  • Guidance on gatherings and events on campus
  • Paid COVID-19 Sick Leave Policy
  • Campus Dining
  • Campus Recreation
  • University Transportation
  • Large classrooms and currently unused space on campus
  • Communication rhythm for the University
  • Access to community help resources

CONTINUITY OF UNIVERSITY OPERATIONS AND REMOTE WORK

As we navigate this evolving situation, we must acknowledge several important points:

  • Our campus provides essential services for our students and our community. Though we have moved to remote instruction and the number of students on campus will be reduced greatly, some students will remain on campus in residence halls and will need access to key services that in some cases cannot be delivered remotely.
  • Certain functions — payroll, IT, facilities, HR, finance, research, to name a few — are critical not just for students, but for all UM employees, and some of this work cannot be done remotely.
  • The current situation regarding COVID-19 is unlikely to be resolved in a matter of days. We must take appropriate steps to be prepared to operate for an extended period of time under conditions that are not normal.

Our goal is to ensure continuity of operations for our campus while encouraging and enabling remote work to the greatest extent possible. A key reason for encouraging remote work arrangements for positions where it is possible is to lessen the traffic and exposure to health risks for our essential service providers whose responsibilities cannot be exercised off campus.

This morning we shared a memo with all supervisors providing guidance on remote work. While the University must remain open and continue to offer an appropriate base level of service, we are encouraging departments to use greater flexibility in work-from-home and telework arrangements, where feasible, to reduce campus-based activity and traffic. We have asked sector heads to review each department, program and service within their sectors to determine if there are modifications required, including, but not limited to: reduced hours of operations, condensed services or adjustments to accommodate remote delivery of required work. Supervisors and team members should discuss remote work possibilities, and if a remote work is an option, establish a Telework Agreement that establishes expectations for employee-supervisor contact and accountability during the modified work arrangement.

This agreement is important for tracking purposes and legal matters such as worker’s compensation coverage. For this reason, faculty who are able to perform their work as a telework arrangement will need to complete a faculty-specific Telework Agreement as well. For managers who supervise student employees, you may also explore telework options and complete Telework Agreements for your student employees.

While policy states that probationary employees are not eligible for telework, this will not be a deciding factor under the current circumstances. 

We must also recognize that some duties cannot be performed remotely, e.g. the work some employees perform in residence halls, campus dining, the University police department, student health clinic, and physical plant. In these cases, we are encouraging supervisors to explore alternate work scheduling or accommodate other reasonable requests to meet the needs of employees during this time.

We ask that all employees continue to refer to the Keep on Working website for answers to frequently asked questions. This website, which is being updated on a regular basis, is designed to address questions that both faculty and staff may have regarding work arrangements. Please know that new information is emerging daily, so we are working to update the FAQs as quickly as we can.

ACADEMIC OPERATIONS FOR REMAINDER OF SPRING SEMESTER

This update brings significant changes to three areas of our academic operation at the University of Montana: remote delivery of education, the possible accelerated completion of learning outcomes and spring Commencement ceremonies.

On March 15, the CDC issued guidance recommending that organizations cancel in-person events that consist of 50 people or more for the coming eight weeks. Consequently, the migration to remote learning will remain in place through the duration of the spring semester. Classes will be taught via remote delivery for the entirety of the semester. At this time, there is no intent to return to face-to-face instruction in spring 2020.

We believe this shift to remote delivery will give our students and families needed options as they finalize their educational, personal and family plans in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Although the campus will remain open after students return from spring break, students who do not wish to return to campus will have the opportunity to complete their courses remotely. Please continue to monitor UM's COVID-19 webpage for the most recent updates.

Additionally, we encourage faculty to explore options to accelerate completion of learning outcomes in their courses. In cases where the key learning outcomes can be achieved and assessed at an accelerated pace, instructors may complete their courses prior to the regular end of the semester. This works best for courses that have been designed for asynchronous instruction and will not be possible in all classes.

Spring Commencement ceremonies are certainly one of the events to which we are giving a great deal of thought. We are currently working with OCHE to make a decision at the system level, and we will have more information soon.

UNIVERSITY RESEARCH AND CREATIVE SCHOLARSHIP

The most recent guidance for research and creative activities can be found here. Campus facilities required for research and creative activities and the University offices that support those efforts remain open. Those faculty, staff and students who can continue working on those projects remotely should do so with your activities aligning with the scope of work as funded.

UM SUMMER

UM will offer summer session courses. At this time, the majority of courses will be delivered via remote (including online) instructional methods. Instructors teaching Session I courses (that start May 11) should plan for remote instruction in May and should contact UMOnline if they would like assistance transitioning to a course to an online format. This includes the 12-week session, first six-week session and first three-week session and UM sponsored non-credit camps/experiences that start in May. No decision has been made yet about instructional formats for sessions that start later in the summer. Decisions about field courses, summer field trips, field camps, expeditions and other hands-on experiential learning will depend on guidelines from national and local health authorities. At this time the situation is too dynamic to allow definitive decision-making about in-person or group courses later in the summer. That said, our innovative UM faculty and staff are hard at work preparing for robust, remote/online summer sessions. 

GUIDANCE ON GATHERINGS AND EVENTS ON CAMPUS

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to avoid gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks and gatherings of 10 or more for the next 15 days. UM will be following this guidance and canceling all University-sponsored events of 50 people or greater for the next eight weeks and 10 or more for the next 15 days. This time period will likely be extended as the situation develops. If your event falls into these criteria, please ensure you cancel your event on the UM Events Calendar. UM encourages organizers to update their event listings if they decide to cancel or postpone. If you need help updating your event listing, email news@umontana.edu

Please see UM Coronavirus Event Info webpage for more guidance about gatherings and events on campus, how to properly notice them in light of COVID-19 and precautions to take.

PAID COVID-19 SICK LEAVE

The Montana University System will provide a new “Paid COVID-19 Leave” for up to 14 calendar days, subject to certain eligibility requirements and in coordination with regular statutory sick-leave requirements for state government employees. Your campus and system Human Resources officers are working on plans to administer this special leave in accordance with state guidelines. Generally, the Paid COVID-19 Leave will assist in situations where individuals are told by public health officials or health care providers to quarantine because of potential exposure. In a separate context, employees whose job duties and responsibilities do not allow a work-from-home arrangement may be eligible to use Paid COVID-19 Leave for up to 14 calendar days for medical needs or reasons of illness that sick leave would normally cover before having to use accrued sick leave. Details still need to be finalized, but this leave program will be managed consistently with steps across agencies, departments and branches of state government.  

Please refer to UM’s Keep on Working website for those details and more information as it becomes available. 

ON CAMPUS DINING CHANGES

In accordance with Missoula City-County Health Department directives issued March 16, restaurants, bars and other establishments in Missoula closed last night at 9 p.m. and will remain closed until 8 a.m. Tuesday, March 24. — except for take-out or drive-through service

Because we must provide basic services for our students, the University of Montana’s dining establishments are exempt from this directive. However, the Iron Griz will remain closed in solidarity with the Missoula-area restaurants through 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 24. Additionally, our dining team has already made modifications to service to minimize risk to our community, and they will continue to adjust over the coming days.

The UC Food Court continues to be open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the UC Market is open Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. We are working with our third-party vendors in the UC Food Court on a case-by-case basis to determine their availability through this temporary stoppage and will provide an update as soon as it is available.

CAMPUS RECREATION

Campus Recreation is open and operating under its normal hours. Group classes have been canceled and approximately half of the fitness machines have been taken offline to better comply with social distancing. In addition, staff have implemented best practices for cleaning and wipe-down procedures. The Grizzly Pool will be closed beginning Wednesday, March 18, in line with the closure of the city of Missoula’s Currents facility.

UNIVERSITY TRANSPORTATION

Vice Provost for Student Success Sarah Swager is working with both our ASUM leadership and the City of Missoula to assess current and future transportation needs. She will provide an update soon.

LARGE ROOMS AND CURRENTLY UNUSED SPACES

UM will begin disinfecting and locking large rooms (those that accommodate more than 50 people) and unused spaces on campus, effectively taking them offline and eliminating the need for routine cleaning until they are used again. This will allow UM’s custodial staff to focus on occupied spaces throughout campus.  

COMMUNICATION RHYTHM FOR THE UNIVERSITY

We know you want and need as much information as possible as we work through this challenging time. Therefore, starting tomorrow, we will be publishing two daily versions of UMToday — one in the morning and one in the evening each weekday to bring you the very latest information on University operations, response and information around COVID-19. There will be a variety of topics covered each day, with the bulk of the information being provided in the morning and updates or emergent topics being covered in the afternoon. These updates will also be posted to the UM coronavirus information page, as well.

I will share updates in this expanded version of UMToday once weekly or as situations warrant.

ACCESS TO COMMUNITY HELP RESOURCE

And lest we forget to look for the good in this situation, UM student Toffer Lenhair and a group of his friends have put together a local group to help those in need. Missoula COVID-19 Mutual Aid Organizing, a Facebook public group, has been created to help members of our community, including those who are more vulnerable to the illness and need to avoid public spaces.

Again, thank you all for your time, your effort and your dedication to our campus community. This is a difficult time for our campus, for our state, for our nation and for our world. In the face of what is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime, I have been amazed by this team’s spirit, our shared commitment to our students’ success, and the deep compassion with which you have operated every single day. Our normal lives are being disrupted, and we are having to react quickly and make substantial changes to the way we work and live. This is not easy, and there will no doubt be challenging days ahead.  But together as a UM Family, we will unite, we will approach this challenge as a team, and we will persevere.

I’ve never been more proud to be part of this team.

With gratitude,

Seth