The COVID-19 global pandemic represents the gravest public health challenge that the world, the country, and Indiana University have faced in a century. The rapid and unpredictable pace with which it has developed has necessitated that IU react with the greatest speed and urgency.
In responding to the pandemic, Indiana University has had two overarching priorities:
- the health and safety of all students, faculty, and staff who comprise the IU community
- maintaining the continuity of instruction, research, and clinical operations.
In this context, we have taken an enormous number of difficult, complex, and unprecedented decisions almost daily. These momentous steps have been taken through, or with the advice of, multiple university-wide emergency management committees and numerous other campus, school, and unit-level committees, meeting, in many cases, daily. Our early response to the pandemic, dating back to January when many of these committees were automatically established under IU's emergency management plan, has bought us valuable time.
Teaching and instruction
Of all these decisions the most important and dramatic was to move all teaching at IU for a student body of over 100,000, from a largely traditional mode of instruction to all virtual classes for the remainder of the spring semester, a transition that was accomplished in just two weeks. This was a massive and unprecedented undertaking and transformation for IU. And while we have faced challenges in moving some lab and studio classrooms to online, the overall outcome-in such a short time of transition-has been remarkably successful. It has also been decided to hold all summer classes virtually as well.
It is important that we understand and appreciate the sheer magnitude and scale of this effort. In just two short weeks, around 18,000 class sections were successfully transitioned to virtual sections by over 10,000 faculty and staff. Two of the key IT tools that are used for this purpose are the video conferencing system Zoom and the Kaltura video course management system. Since IU moved to virtual instruction we have seen, as of earlier this week, over 100,000 virtual Zoom classes and meetings, with over 600,000 participants, totaling over 20 million minutes of connect time. And Kaltura has seen over 40,000 videos created, played over 1.6 million times. These numbers continue to rise, and on Tuesday this week alone, there were 3.3 million minutes of Zoom meetings-the equivalent of one continuous meeting of 6.2 years!
Of course, teaching and instruction, along with research, are the very core of what Indiana University is. Our faculty and staff, some of the finest and most dedicated in the country, deserve our most sincere thanks and congratulations for their efforts to effect this remarkable transition and transformation, especially when their personal lives have also been disrupted by the consequences of the pandemic. And our students also deserve our grateful thanks for the way they have adapted so readily under difficult circumstances to this major and unexpected change in their degree studies.
It is worth noting as well, that this dramatic and successful transition would not have been possible without IU's longstanding investments over two decades in a high-quality robust IT infrastructure. Further, nearly 10 years of successful experience with IU Online has been indispensable.
Likewise, many of IU's key student services have transitioned to virtual services, ensuring that our students can still receive the academic advising, health and counseling services, financial aid support, scholarly and research assistance, and other critical support that they need. These, and numerous other changes made to improve efficiency in recent years, have made IU more resilient in these extreme circumstances than we would otherwise have been.
The pandemic has proved a major disruption to IU's billion dollar research enterprise, which just last year achieved record levels of external funding. But wherever possible, we are working vigorously to ensure the continuation of our research activities in compliance with state and federal orders and guidelines concerning the pandemic.
Research activities that can be continued entirely remotely are continuing without restriction. Much of the university's research can be conducted remotely. Even lab research has many components that can be performed remotely (for example, data analysis, manuscript preparation and review, presentation preparation, proposal development, grant report preparation, and online discussions with students and lab staff).
Research activities that cannot be conducted remotely are now limited to "essential research activities," and continue provided that they can otherwise comply with CDC social distancing requirements. In full compliance with Governor Eric Holcomb's executive order, and in close coordination with Purdue, "essential research activities" are defined to include research concerning COVID-19, clinical trials, national security, and certain animal, plant, and biological research.
COVID-19 research at IU is urgently focused on ways to detect, treat, manage, and ultimately eradicate the threat of this deadly virus. Details can be found at research.impact.iu.edu/coronavirus. And the same is true at universities all over the country, as their collective might is now turned squarely towards this grave problem. As Dr. Harvey Fineberg, a former president of the National Academy of Medicine, put it just a few days ago, the ultimate goal of the nation's research enterprise is not just to flatten the curve, but to crush the curve and ultimately wipe out this pandemic.
But at the same time, it is clear, as we have repeatedly emphasized over the years, that the greatest challenges facing humanity have no geographic boundaries, and, as such, will frequently demand the fullest collaboration by researchers from all countries around the globe and the sustained investment of these countries. It is already clear that a key to surmounting the current crisis is through the rapid sharing of new discoveries, ideas, and innovations, wherever they might originate, and through robust and vigorous international collaboration and engagement of the kind in which IU has always been a leader.
There is much else that it has been necessary to do. We have:
- Closed most residence halls and on-campus housing, though making provisions for some students who cannot return to their permanent residence, including some international students, to remain in residence halls.
- Directed all staff, except those in essential jobs, to work from home where they can and not come to campus. We estimate that 80 percent of staff now do so.
- Cancelled hundreds of events, including such iconic and beloved events as campus commencements, the Little 500, hundreds of bicentennial events, and many more. However, it is our hope to reschedule many of these in the fall or hold some of them in a virtual form.
- Restricted all university-affiliated travel outside of Indiana, both domestic and international and strongly discouraged travel for any reason.
- Canceled all IU study abroad programs in light of the U.S. Department of State's worldwide Level 4 Global Health Travel Advisory.
Again, all of these difficult actions required massive efforts by hundreds of faculty and staff across the university. For many, it was heartbreaking to see events and programs, into some of which they have invested years of effort and commitment, dissolve overnight. That is why, wherever possible, we are determined that the events will be postponed or delivered virtually, rather than simply cancelled.
Outside of IU, the State of Indiana is fully engaged. State, local, and federal health authorities have been meeting daily with many IU offices since nearly the beginning of the outbreak. Congress has already passed bills providing massive financial assistance to support the economy, and more are under discussion. Hospitals around the state, including IU Health, where so many IU clinical faculty work, are at the forefront of the state's response and preparations as we see the pandemic death toll tragically rise every day. In addition, IU is assisting IU Health by making rooms available in Briscoe Quad in Bloomington to medical workers for respite care or to quarantine from their families. Likewise, we are also making rooms available in University Tower at IUPUI for similar reasons to house medical workers from IU Health and other area hospitals, and potentially to house COVID-19 patients. We have also donated 100,000 personal protective masks to IU Health, in light of the state's shortage of personal protective equipment.
To serve the members of the IU community and the general public in this time of need, IU is also providing free, 24-hour, high-speed Wi-Fi access across the state to those who may not have internet connectivity due to the closure of libraries and businesses. IU's University Information Technology Services networks division has set up "lot hot spots" in parking lots on all of its campuses so users can maintain social distancing while accessing the Internet from their cars.
Additionally, dozens of IU faculty and staff are providing valuable information about the virus to business and community leaders, legislators, journalists, and the general public, and frequently appear or are quoted in the media.
Of course, a question nearly everyone is asking is when can we restart something like our previous face to face teaching, research, and other activities such as athletics? In doing this, our principal and over-riding consideration must be the safety of students, faculty, and staff who comprise the IU community. This will involve skilled evaluation of extensive medical, public health, and other information. Given this, I have formed a Restart Committee, chaired by IU Executive Vice President and Dean of the IU School of Medicine, Jay Hess, with members to include IU's two deans of public health, Paul Halverson and David Allison, along with infectious disease experts from IU's health sciences schools and IU Health. This committee will begin meeting immediately, and will advise and make recommendations to the IU administration on when and under what conditions IU can resume normal or partial operations.
But we are far from the end of this crisis. Its repercussions will be felt for many years, even after COVID-19 is defeated. We are far from sure what form the next academic year will take. But we certainly expect that there will be an impact on enrollment on all campuses. I do not want to sugar coat this-the financial consequences will be potentially severe. In expectation of this, we have already taken a number of actions including:
- Freezing the hiring of staff,
- Prioritizing strategic faculty hires and requiring executive vice president approval for them,
- Freezing mid-year salary increases, and
- Strictly limiting travel and purchases.
In addition, I am announcing today that we will also be:
- Cancelling previously approved fiscal 2021 salary increases and continuing the freezes I just mentioned,
- Delaying non-essential planned capital projects funded through university resources,
- Reducing Grand Challenge funding,
- Reviewing IU Foundation funds to ensure full utilization, and
- Building the fiscal 2021 budget with a five percent general fund reduction.
The coming fiscal year, in sum, will be a very challenging one-fiscally and potentially in other important ways-for Indiana University.
Again, I do not want to sugar coat the situation with trite phrases or hollow optimism. These are difficult and unpleasant decisions that we have had to make, and will have to make in the coming weeks and months, but they are necessary in the circumstances. However, our investments over many decades in basic infrastructure, key efficiencies, inter-campus collaboration, innovation, and fiscal responsibility put IU in a good position to weather this storm-not easily, but with certainty in our ultimate success.
None of us thought that we would have to make these kinds of decisions in our Bicentennial year. But... our Bicentennial Year does remind us of the daunting challenges of the past that have been surmounted by those who have gone before us at Indiana University, though perhaps never any on this scale. These have been difficult times, and my most grateful thanks, and I am sure those of the Trustees, go to the hundreds of IU administrators who have had to lead these efforts almost without a break for months now; to IU's faculty, staff, and students who have demonstrated tremendous resolve and dedication; and to Governor Holcomb and his staff for their leadership and their flexibility in working with IU. It will take all of us continuing to do our jobs to the best of our ability in the most difficult of circumstances in the months ahead, as our forebears did when they faced the challenges of their day, to ensure that we will emerge better than ever from this present crisis.