Interim President Dale Knobel announced today that he is convening a Campus Readiness Task Force to help determine when and how Southwestern University will resume face-to-face learning and residential life this fall. Led by Dean of Faculty and Professor of Political Science Alisa Gaunder, Vice President for Student Life Jaime Woody, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Craig Erwin, the task force will include staff representing key offices and faculty with expertise relevant to the ongoing crisis and its local impacts on the university. The group will advise Knobel through midsummer, when it will begin providing recommendations to Laura E. Skandera Trombley, who will assume leadership as Southwestern’s 16th president on July 1.

The group’s charge “is to recommend ways that we can offer our academic and student life program on our residential campus while helping us ensure that students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors are healthy and safe,” Knobel explains. “The task force will have to consider that we are a diverse community representing different health profiles, age cohorts, and comfort with an unprecedented situation. I am asking the task force to consider the range of public-health procedures and activities that can make it possible for us to learn, teach, work, and live on the campus in a way that supports the health of all.”

As students complete their spring finals remotely, faculty and staff also continue to work from home—and will continue to do so until at least May 31. Staff performing essential tasks on campus, such as the facilities management team, continue to work in staggered shifts to ensure community members’ safety.

Knobel reveals that the target for reopening campus is August 24, 2020, which was the starting date for fall semester classes approved by the administration prior to the first reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. However, given the continuing uncertainty about a number of factors, including the disease’s spread, the availability of testing and protective equipment, the logistics of implementing safety precautions, and the regulations or guidelines set forth by local, state, and federal authorities, the task force will also develop and recommend backup plans for the fall, tailored to the needs of the SU community—including transitioning midsemester to teaching and learning remotely on short notice, as it did this spring, should it become necessary.

In the meantime, Knobel says he appreciates “the resilience of students, the resourcefulness of faculty, and the dedication of staff across the university” as this strange and historic semester comes to a close. “I continue to find uplifting the response of the Southwestern community to the demanding circumstances of 2020. We are at our best when we are united in common purpose.”

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