Message from President Leebron Regarding COVID-19

To the Rice Community,

One week ago we announced we were canceling classes for this past week, and just three days ago we let you know that Rice would be moving to complete remote delivery of classes for the remainder of the spring semester. Over this past week, the situation regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has rapidly escalated across Europe and the United States. In just 24 hours from the middle of the day on Wednesday until Thursday, we witnessed a substantial change in the environment as the World Health Organization formally announced COVID-19 as a pandemic, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was closed, city and county officials announced states of emergency, and an increasing number of universities announced that spring on-campus classes would be delivered remotely and online. Most recently, the U.S. government proclaimed a National Emergency concerning COVID-19. Nearly all professional and inter-collegiate sporting events have been cancelled. Apple, Nike and others have closed their stores.

While the only case of COVID-19 in the Rice community that we are aware of is that of the employee previously announced, who I am pleased to say has recovered, we know we must continue to take drastic measures if we are both to protect those on our campus and do our part in helping prevent the further spread of this dangerous disease. The goal across our nation at this point is to adopt strong mitigation strategies that will slow the rate that it spreads. This requires among other things that we all undertake efforts of “social distancing.” This will help ensure that the number of those infected who need serious medical attention does not reach the level that overwhelms our medical facilities. The prohibition on campus gatherings of more than 25 remains in place, although any unnecessary gatherings are discouraged.

These developments and the decisions we have made as a university have had a serious impact on all parts of our community.

Most of our undergraduate students have left their residential colleges following our communication on March 12. A significant number of petitions by students to remain have been approved, generally because of issues related to international travel or because the students would face housing insecurity or unworkable environments elsewhere. Tomorrow we will announce our refund policies for room and board, parking and undergraduate recreation center fees with the aim of getting funds to our students quickly. We will provide more details about students on work study on Monday as well. Some of our off-campus undergraduate students also need assistance, and we are also working to support them.

Classes for graduate students have also been moved to a remote delivery format. Those who are engaged in research should continue to carry on those activities, but take extra care regarding social distancing. Where possible, we encourage researchers and faculty to conduct their research remotely. Our graduate housing remains open. Those residences are apartment buildings, where residents do not have the same degree of exposure intrinsic to the communal living and dining in the undergraduate colleges.

We understand that the sense of loss falls heavily on those who are graduating this year. We will host commencement for our 2020 graduates. We are still planning on a May ceremony, but we cannot be certain whether that will be advisable. If in early to mid-April it appears not possible to hold the ceremony in May, we will consult with student leaders and schedule an in-person ceremony for the classes of 2020 at the earliest opportunity and with reasonable notice.

We are adopting policies that aggressively reduce our on campus population and interactions that might spread the disease, should another member of our community become infected. Those who can work from home are encouraged to do so after consulting with their supervisors. Those working on campus, to the extent possible, should try to keep a safe distance from others, which is generally about six feet. We want our staff members to know that despite the significant reduction in campus activity this semester, we will not be furloughing or reducing compensation of our employees. IN NO CASE SHOULD YOU COME TO WORK IF YOU ARE ILL OR HAVE ANY SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19. I hope all of us will take every opportunity to express our appreciation to our dedicated employees.

Our faculty has been hard at work preparing for remote delivery, with many taking part in instructional sessions to help develop the most suitable approaches. We are all deeply indebted to our faculty for undertaking this transformation on such notice. Research as noted remains in full operation, with the caveat above that we have asked researchers and faculty to remotely conduct research whenever that is feasible.

We have received many encouraging letters of support from the broader Rice community, including alumni and parents. Of course, not everyone will agree with every decision that we make at every point in time. But working together in a common spirit and with an overriding notion of care for all members of our community, we will succeed in addressing this threat and resuming fully as the vibrant community we love.

These are unprecedented times, and they require unprecedented actions. The cooperation we have received from all parts of our community has been outstanding. We cannot say whether we will need to take even more drastic actions, and changes in our decisions may take place rapidly with new information, as has already occurred. Hardworking and thoughtful people of good will throughout the university are working every day, seven days a week, to assure that we make and implement the best possible decisions in a context that demands urgent decisionmaking and action.

This coming week was supposed to be the usual spring break that offered so many of us a time to relax, catch up on our work, visit new destinations and undertake exciting new ventures. For so many of us, that won’t be possible. But I hope nonetheless it will be week in which can be thankful we are part of the Rice community as we respond with determination and compassion to a crisis that has enveloped our world.

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