Campus Update from President Ken Kitts

Dear Campus Colleagues:

I would like to take this opportunity to update you on our efforts to monitor the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak and prepare our campus for possible effects from the spread of that illness.

For starters, please know that this issue is receiving significant attention at the University level. Coronavirus planning has been a topic of discussion at each meeting of the Executive Council since the first news reports from China began to emerge in January. All members of the Council have a role to play in securing information and shaping the University’s response on this issue. Two EC members have played an especially important role in these discussions because of the scope of their responsibilities: Vice President for Student Affairs Kimberly Greenway has responsibility for the Office of University Health Services as well as the Office of Housing and Residence Life; and Provost Ross Alexander oversees UNA’s instructional efforts, class schedules, and issues involving delivery of educational services.

Working together, we developed a statement detailing the University’s position that was shared as a press release on March 6. In that statement, we tried to strike a balance in our institutional posture that emphasizes common-sense preparations but rejects dramatic and disruptive steps that are not supported by known facts. Maintaining that balance is imperative for all of us, both as citizens and as members of the UNA family, if we are to continue to make good decisions in the face of this challenge.

This past week has brought news of important developments in the coronavirus saga. The World Health Organization has now declared the illness a pandemic. The NCAA has announced that fans will not be allowed at its spring basketball tournaments. President Trump announced new travel restrictions on flights from Europe. Even as we contemplate these developments, it is important to note what has not happened. To date, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Alabama. The states with the highest number of reported cases – Washington, New York, and California – are far removed from our location. And, none of our faculty, staff, or students have reported recent travel to infected areas or contact with coronavirus victims.

All of this could change quickly. Specifically, it seems likely that Alabama will begin to experience and report cases as has happened elsewhere. If and when that happens, we will deal with it responsibly and continue to make the best decisions we can for our campus community. I am to meet tomorrow with a group of campus leaders to compare notes on our coronavirus preparations and to develop contingency plans we can deploy if governmental authorities direct an alteration in our schedule, or if we determine that a change in operations is necessary based on circumstances in our area.

Finally, I have asked our Office of University Communications and Marketing to prepare and disseminate weekly updates to campus on our monitoring activities and actions taken relative to the coronavirus outbreak. The first of those communications will go out within the next few days. In addition, we will brief shared governance leaders on this issue and ensure that faculty and staff voices are heard as decisions are made.

I appreciate your attention and urge you to join with me in keeping yourself educated on this important topic. Please feel free to contact any member of the Executive Council if you have questions, comments, or suggestions.

Ken Kitts