Johns Hopkins University has launched a broad, cross-divisional planning task force that includes multiple workgroups to examine dozens of areas of university activity in order to answer one essential question for students, faculty, and staff: What happens next?
All but essential in-person activities have been suspended on JHU campuses since mid-March amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with most instruction and employee activity happening remotely. In an update to the university community earlier this week, President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar said, "The health and safety of our community will remain paramount as we embark on a consultative process to consider our next steps. But we have set for ourselves the goal of resuming suspended in-person educational, clinical, and research activities to the greatest extent possible as soon as it is prudent."
"Given the uncertainties about the course of the pandemic we are considering a range of options," they said, "and we are planning a multiphased return during the coming months and into the fall, consistent with government regulations."
Over the next few weeks, the 2020 Planning Task Force will develop and seek feedback on draft guidelines that will be presented to the deans, faculty governance bodies, and university leaders no later than June. Each school, department, and program will use those parameters to develop local protocols for carrying out research and educational activities going forward. The task force will rely on a set of guiding principles to inform its recommendations, and seek input from students, faculty, and staff.
Specific timelines for resuming various activities will depend on the relaxation of local, state, and federal restrictions as well as the university's assessment of public health data and conditions on its campuses.
"A phased approach makes the most sense since we can't know what the number of cases will look like in the future, if there might be resurgences throughout the next year, and when new prevention or treatment options might emerge," says Jon Links, vice provost and chief risk and compliance officer and a professor of public health. "Outlining a series of actions we can take as the situation evolves allows us to make the best choices at a given time and remain consistent with federal and state requirements."
JHU's approach will reflect the "Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery" released by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a plan that outlines three phases to resumption of activities, identifies levels of risk at each state from low to high, and describes potential reasons for reinstating restrictions.
This framework sets the stage for teams of administrators and faculty, with input from students and colleagues, to address several key areas.
- The research workgroup is examining lab management and safety strategies, issues that will be faced by students and postdocs in an altered lab environment, and how to resume humanities research and use of libraries.
- The academic programs workgroup is exploring a wide range of questions related to curriculum, academic requirements, instruction, online resources, and other needs of undergraduate, graduate and professional students.
- The student life workgroup is reviewing options for residential housing and dining, student activities, and orientation activities.
- The health and testing workgroup is planning how best to provide student and employee health services, conduct testing and contact tracing, and enact isolation and quarantine procedures.
- Several workgroups are focusing on operational areas that affect the institution broadly, including issues related to returning faculty and staff to campus, opening facilities, and monitoring the public health situation to make informed decisions about university practices.
Workgroups include representation from across the university community. Faculty members are part of the research and academic workgroups and graduate students are part of the research workgroup. Students are invited to join a student advisory committee though an online application.
"The suggestions, feedback, and perspective of our students, faculty, and staff are vital," says Stephen Gange, executive vice provost for academic affairs and a professor of public health. "Those who spend their days in our labs, classrooms, clinical settings, residential programs, community spaces, and workplaces will have insights essential for our planning, and their support of safety measures that we do implement—even when they are inconvenient—is absolutely necessary for our reopening phases to be successful."
The Hub's JHU 2020 planning information page has more details on the task force and its efforts; the page also includes an online comment form for members of the Johns Hopkins community to share comments and suggestions about the resumption of on-campus activities. Over the next few weeks there will be virtual town halls to gather comments on scenario planning, along with other opportunities for community input.
Many people at Johns Hopkins are already sharing their insights and creative solutions. At the Whiting School of Engineering's hackathon, held remotely April 25 and 26, more than 100 participants worked in teams and generated 122 ideas on how to address the challenges of facilitating undergraduate programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We appreciate the creativity and input of the many faculty, staff, students, and postdocs who have already participated in activities to generate ideas and shape options for fall," said Daniels and Kumar.
The creation of actionable plans will be informed by six guiding principles, which are posted in full on the Hub's JHU 2020 planning information page:
- We will fulfill our mission and meet our standard of excellence.
- The health and safety of our community are paramount.
- Science, evidence, and pragmatism will guide our decisions.
- We will be flexible and innovative in the face of evolving circumstances.
- We will provide inclusive and equitable solutions.
- We will heed our responsibility to ensure the university's financial strength and stability.
Determining a plan to move forward is "a significant challenge for an institution as multifaceted and interdependent as ours," Daniels and Kumar said. "We know that life on our campuses will not return exactly as it was before COVID-19. Yet we are also certain that this community will bring ingenuity, innovation, and determination to answering the question of how to return swiftly and safely, adapting to our new normal in a way that preserves the essence of the Johns Hopkins experience."