The COVID-19 Pandemic and the start of the new academic year
We are rapidly approaching the beginning of the fall semester on August 24 when we will commence in-person and online instruction. We are very pleased to already be welcoming students back to our campuses for the first time in more than five months.
As you know, we have established one of the most comprehensive testing and screening programs among our peer institutions. Students living in residential housing on the Bloomington, IUPUI, IU Southeast, and IU South Bend campuses, and IU Bloomington students who will live in Greek houses or IU campus apartments are required to be tested for COVID-19 within the 10 days prior to their arrival on campus. Bloomington students living off campus are also strongly encouraged to get tested before arriving to campus. In addition, all IU Bloomington students are required to have a mandatory “on-campus arrival” test for COVID-19. On-arrival testing began this week in Bloomington and at IUPUI and it has gone remarkably smoothly – with many families expressing their appreciation for a friendly, organized, and efficient process that demonstrated IU’s commitment to the health and safety of the university community.
Throughout the semester, students, faculty, and staff will be randomly selected through a process determined by IU epidemiologists and bio-statisticians to undergo saliva tests, with the ultimate goal being regular testing for all asymptomatic members of the IU community. And, of course, in May we partnered with IU Health to make testing available to any member of the IU community who is symptomatic.
All IU students have also been required to sign a COVID-19 Student Commitment form, which plays a critical role in ensuring that they are informed of—and commit to—the best individual safety practices. Likewise, IU faculty and staff are required to sign a Community Responsibility Acknowledgement. Everyone will be required to wear a mask while on campus, and physical distancing will be crucial in keeping our campus communities safe.
All of this is well underway—and with remarkable success given the enormity of this undertaking. It has, of course, required the coordinated efforts of a very large team. The leadership of Executive Vice Presidents Lauren Robel, Nasser Paydar and John Applegate on the Bloomington, Indianapolis and regional campuses has been outstanding, tireless and completely dedicated to the safety of the university community. IU’s COVID-19 testing and surveillance operations are being led by Dr. Aaron Carroll, the Regenstrief Foundation Professor in the IU School of Medicine. Dr. Adrian Gardner, director of the IU Center for Global Health, leads the contact tracing and disease management efforts of the IU Medical Response Team. And Dr. Cole Beeler, of IU Health and the IU School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, also leads our symptomatic testing efforts. Many others, including Doug Booher and members of the University Events staff in Bloomington and a cadre of contact tracers around the state, are involved in these coordinated efforts and have been doing a superb job. They collectively are our front line in the battle to keep our campuses safe.
Amid all of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic over the past five months, it was widely predicted that enrollments this fall would be significantly lower than in past years.
However, campus leaders and enrollment staff did not share this pessimism. They redoubled their efforts to recruit and admit new students and to re-enroll continuing students who are determined to keep their education on track in spite of the pandemic.
While we do not provide final numbers until after the Fall Census on August 31, I am pleased to report that early indications are that our fall enrollment numbers are looking very strong overall. In fact, at this stage we expect to meet—and even exceed in some cases--the enrollment targets we set for this fall.
The cancellation of Big Ten fall sports
As you know, on Tuesday the Big Ten Conference announced that, due to health and safety concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was postponing all Big Ten fall athletic competitions.
This announcement came as extremely difficult news for many of us, but it was especially devastating to our student-athletes who – with the support of their families – have spent the last five months preparing for the fall sports season and persevering through everything we have asked them to do while they were away from campus and even after they returned to Bloomington for voluntary workouts.
To echo Athletics Director Scott Dolson, I am deeply disappointed for all of our coaches and staff who have spent countless hours creatively responding and reacting to the pandemic. And I share the sadness and disappointment of Hoosier fans and alumni, who were greatly looking forward to football, soccer and other men’s and women’s sports.
As disappointed as we all are about this decision, the uncertainties regarding potential medical risks to our student-athletes made it necessary one. Our primary responsibility is the health, safety and wellness of our students, faculty and staff. As such, we will continue to be guided by the best medical experts, emerging data and governmental authorities as we consider future actions.
Tuesday was a very difficult day for our student-athletes and our fans, but we are all hopeful that IU sports will be back in action in the Spring if conditions allow.