For 162 years, Illinois State University has opened its academic year in an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. As we make final preparations for our 163rd year, I ask that you add another noun to the mix—vigilance.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents us with challenges we have never before faced. The manner in which we meet those challenges—the way we practice vigilance at the beginning of this semester—will play a central role in how we fare this year. I urge you to review Illinois State’s health and safety protocols that can be found in the University’s Redbirds Return plan, as well as on the Coronavirus website. Pay close attention to your physical health and mental well-being and follow all health and safety guidance.
I also ask that you review the University’s core values section of our strategic plan, Educate Connect Elevate. Of those seven foundational values, I would submit that the value of Respect gains even more importance as together, we travel this uncharted and uncertain path.
I also want to share a variety of recent updates. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, and we are closely monitoring information provided by the Governor and the Illinois Department of Public Health. Our COVID planning teams are studying how significant increases in positive cases throughout the state and nation will impact students, faculty, and staff as well as university operations as we begin the fall semester. As I have said numerous times over the last months, the health, wellness, and safety of the entire campus community must be our top priority and at the center of our decision-making.
Today is no exception as I provide updated information regarding the fall term.
This update reflects the progress that has been made since Redbirds Return: A Progress Report was issued on June 10 and to provide more information regarding what faculty, staff and students can expect for the fall 2020 term. Please note that this update is as of July 9, 2020, and as we continue to study our return plans and the myriad impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, we will modify our plans as necessary.
As we eagerly move forward with preparations for the fall 2020 semester, we are taking thoughtful and purposeful steps to protect the health, safety, and well-being of the entire campus community. Our Redbirds Return blueprint remains fluid and we continue to seek feedback from all campus stakeholders as we adjust our plans for the fall term. It will take all of us – students, faculty, staff and visitors – sharing in the responsibility of following all health and safety guidance such as wearing face coverings and practicing physical distancing, to minimize the impacts of COVID-19 for the entire campus and larger community.
The coronavirus pandemic creates new challenges on a daily basis and many times has caused us to abandon one plan and create something new in the course of a single day. There is no doubt that this challenging time has been difficult for all of us. Please rest assured that we are diligent in monitoring the progression of COVID-19 throughout the state, country, and the world, and will continue to prepare for the fall semester and beyond with your health and safety in mind. Please take time to regularly visit the University’s Coronavirus website, and please address any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I thank you for your patience and forbearance as we continue to model the safest and most efficient methods of resuming face-to-face, hybrid, and online instruction at Illinois State University.
Larry H. Dietz
In March 2020, President Larry Dietz, in keeping with the majority of other residential, public, four-year institutions in Illinois and nationally, appointed 15 workgroups to tackle research and planning duties about how the spring and summer semesters would unfold. Shortly thereafter, those same workgroups shifted their attention to fall planning. Input was further sought from faculty through a survey that resulted in a 40 percent response rate, and discussions were held with faculty experts. Direction was received from the University Teaching Committee, deans and chairs/directors on teaching modalities, with advice as well from faculty mentors who helped shape summer professional development opportunities.
The work was undertaken—and continues to be carried out—in a rapidly-changing environment. The goal, however, has remained constant: Provide actionable recommendations for the fall semester with time for consideration and implementation. The commitment to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff is equally firm. On-campus instruction and operations will not resume if the public health community indicates it is not safe to do so, and not until appropriate health and safety practices are in place.
Guidance has been reviewed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), the McLean County Health Department, the American College Health Association, other health agencies, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and professional associations throughout the planning process. Numerous industry guidelines were researched
with attention given to plans made by all public universities in Illinois, as well as many in other states. Revisions were made based on information gained from each sector.
The University's fall planning efforts are contingent on directives from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his Restore Illinois document released on May 5. As our region of the state advanced to Phase 3, guidelines for how faculty and staff would transition back to campus offices were developed and disseminated in the Redbirds Return to Work document. Phase 4 allows for universities to once again offer classes on campus. The recommendations outlined in this progress report assume that our region will be in Phase 4 prior to the start of the fall semester.
New information becomes available almost daily and many uncertainties remain, making COVID-19 planning a daunting task. Circumstances result in the reality that revisions are likely and plans are subject to change as the virus remains present across the country. Despite this fluid situation, it is critically important that the University move forward in preparing for the fall semester.
We acknowledge and appreciate the tireless efforts of our essential workers who remained on campus this spring to keep critical services operational. After the spring semester, President Dietz announced that it was the University's intention to enter the fall semester with students back on campus and in the classroom once again. Since then, planning efforts have concluded that a blended approach to teaching and learning, which includes face-to-face, hybrid and online courses, will take place this fall. This document provides the guidance needed for such a scenario to unfold.
Illinois State's core mission is teaching, scholarship, and public service. The connections built and sustained within and across each area are vital to every university endeavor. Another key aspect of the Redbird experience is campus life. Students have strongly voiced that they value being taught through direct faculty interaction in the classroom. They thrive through residential life and out-of-classroom experiences that create growth in both their professional and personal skills. We know that students and families value a rich on-campus experience. The University is eager to return to a traditional residential campus experience, acknowledging that a modified, new normal is in our collective future.
The transition in spring resulted in hardships not previously experienced among members of the Redbird family. There have been many lessons learned since March. The abrupt end to on-campus learning created never-before-seen challenges for students, faculty, and staff. One noted obstacle related to student access to technology and learning environments while away from campus.
Additionally, students completed the spring semester without their typical on-campus community networks that contribute to student success. Remote learning consequently provided a stark reminder of the ongoing need to address equity and access issues.
Beyond unexpected academic hurdles, all Redbirds have faced their own set of struggles as a result of COVID-19. For some, the virus has created economic uncertainty with jobs no longer secure. Others have experienced mental health and physical well-being challenges during these times. These realities are at the forefront of discussion as plans for fall are formed.
The recommendations and guidelines were created with the objective of benefiting the entire campus community. The University acknowledges the need to address the health, financial, and social-emotional needs of students, faculty, and staff—especially those disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
All these parameters and concerns combined with knowledge gained from myriad sources have resulted in these recommendations for fall 2020 that are outlined in this progress report. Understand that the pandemic has and likely will continue to disrupt some aspects of the traditional academic experience for the foreseeable future. Illinois State is confident, however, that steps are in place for the University to come together in the fall. We will begin to participate once again in the Redbird collegiate experience in the classroom and on campus to the fullest extent possible.
COVID-19 has brought unprecedented upheaval to all aspects of daily life. No one could have anticipated the scope of changes to Illinois State University that have taken place since March. Envisioning how to return in the fall has been just as challenging. Even with the recommendations detailed in this website, it is understood that many questions remain. No report written at this point can provide
all the answers nor address the circumstances of each individual when dealing with an evolving pandemic.
The weeks ahead before the fall semester begins will undoubtedly bring more issues that need to be addressed. Planning and preparations will consequently continue throughout the summer months, with updates regularly communicated to the campus community.
A series of principles were established at the outset of planning for fall 2020 to guide the research and planning efforts undertaken by members of 15 workgroups.
Marketing and communication projects, alumni engagement efforts, and philanthropic work to support the University's mission and priorities will continue. The University will remain sensitive to the evolving pandemic, while considering ways to communicate and engage with external constituencies.
This website will continue to provide the most up-to-date information and health guidance. A dedicated email address for COVID-19 related inquiries will remain in use (Coronavirus@IllinoisState.edu). The COVID-19 Redbirds Response Fund will remain active, providing an opportunity for alumni and friends to assist students experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.