A message from President McRobbie on the COVID-19 global pandemic

Monday, March 23, 2020

Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,

The COVID-19 global pandemic represents the gravest public health challenge that this country and the world have faced in a century. The rapid pace with which it has developed has been staggering. The unpredictability of events has made an orderly pattern of planning and response impossible. Each day has brought multiple developments that have been necessary to react to with the greatest of speed, and today Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb signed an executive order for “Hoosiers to Stay at Home,” commencing at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, March 24. It contains important provisions that designate universities as essential infrastructure for continued operations. 

At Indiana University, we have had to make an enormous number of operational changes and decisions almost hourly in order to do what is necessary to help mitigate this public health crisis. Our constant, overriding and highest priority in making these changes and decisions has been the health, welfare and safety of the entire university community on all our campuses and facilities across the state. 

In less than two short weeks, we have moved from implementing interim measures that we had hoped would be sufficient, to moving teaching at Indiana University 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. We have had to close almost all of our residential housing; cancel or postpone hundreds of events, including our much beloved Commencement ceremonies; and have employees shift to remote work whenever possible. 

This represents a massive and unprecedented undertaking and transformation for Indiana University. Nothing like it has ever been attempted before — certainly not under such difficult and fluid circumstances. 

But this transformation would simply not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of so many of our outstanding faculty and staff. I have often said in my regular updates that our faculty and staff are Indiana University’s most vital resource and some of the finest and most dedicated in the country. Never has this shone through as it does now. You have all had to make countless changes to the way in which you work. And you have done this in the face of many difficult adjustments to your home life as well. 

I extend my most sincere thanks, that of IU’s senior leadership and that of the IU Trustees to all our faculty who are working with such breakneck speed to transform their courses to all virtual instruction. Our most sincere thanks to all our staff who provide the myriad support services that are making this transformation possible. Our most sincere thanks to all the staff who are keeping as much as possible of the normal business of the university operating. And our special thanks to all those at the front lines of this fight — those responsible for cleaning and sanitizing of the university, the police and other public safety officials, and our health care workers who are working with those who have or have been exposed to COVID-19. To all of you we express our most grateful thanks. 

I am certain we will surmount this crisis. The greatest research engine in the world — the collective might of the great American research universities — is now turned squarely toward this problem in the critically urgent search for treatments and ultimately vaccines. IU researchers are among those responding and you can find details at research.impact.iu.edu/coronavirus. The state of Indiana is fully engaged, and Congress is urgently considering fiscal measures to support the economy. Hospitals around the state — including IU Health, where so many of IU's clinical faculty work — are at the forefront of the state’s response and preparations. And it will also take all of us continuing to do our jobs to the best of our ability in difficult circumstances while diligently following the best advice of our public health professionals.


As I said, our faculty and staff are IU’s most vital resource. Their health, welfare and safety, including the security of their employment, are our highest priority, and we will do all we can to ensure this. We value all of our employees and all that they do so diligently and so well for Indiana University. We are all in this together. There are, though, a number of areas about which people are uncertain or concerned, so let me update you on decisions concerning them. 

  • IU campuses are not closed. They will only be closed in the most serious of circumstances or at the direction of the appropriate state officials. However, to protect the health of employees and the communities around IU campuses, I have directed that supervisors allow employees to work from home if at all possible. This includes flexibility for families who are also providing care for children while schools and daycare are closed, for individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness, and for those who are caring for others at higher risk. The determination for which personnel are needed on site to perform essential services is vested with university vice presidents, chancellors and deans in close consultation with each other.
  • Many employees are concerned about their pay status, so let me clarify the situation. The federal government has recently enacted the Families First Act to address income continuation in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. This act does not go into effect until April 2, 2020, but Indiana University will act sooner to provide our faculty, staff, academic appointees including graduate students, and temporary workers greater certainty. Effective today, Monday, March 23:   
    1. Employees will be expected to continue working, either remotely or on campus if their job duties for essential services must be performed on campus. Compensation will continue. Supervisors will make work assignment changes as necessary to adapt to the evolving situation
    2. Employees whose supervisors determine they are unable to complete their work remotely or come to campus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue to receive their full normal pay.
    3. During this time, employees will not be required to use any accrued time off such as sick time, vacation or PTO for COVID-19-related reasons. 
    4. These policies will continue for employees until whichever of the following comes first:
      1. Until the normal end of their employment, which may align to the end of the academic term or another defined time period,
      2. Until the end of the COVID-19 situation at IU, or 
      3. Through the end of this academic year (June 30, 2020). 

If this pandemic extends for a longer period of time, we will revisit this issue.

An FAQ with additional information regarding COVID-19 as it relates to employees is on the HR website.

  • IU’s ability to take the above steps is made possible by IU’s excellent fiscal management over many years. However, our priority is to take care of our present employees now while preparing for a changed future — even after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must carefully husband and preserve the resources we have now. In that spirit, I am directing that the following steps be taken:
    1. IU will immediately pause all staff and temporary recruitment and hiring. This includes both internal and external hiring. Our work needs have changed in the current environment, and I ask everyone to be as flexible as possible in helping other departments and campuses as staff abilities and needs may allow.
    2. Faculty searches will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis with deans, and each search that is recommended must be approved by the campus or other Executive Vice President (Lauren Robel, Nasser Paydar, John Applegate or Jay Hess). Even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must never lose sight of the vital importance of continuing to build and strengthen the academic core of the university. This process will enable priority searches to be carefully identified in these difficult times.
    3. No salary increases or bonuses will be processed until further notice.

Let me also ask you to continue to practice all of the advised health precautions and to please continue to monitor coronavirus.iu.edu daily for further updates.

The situation we find ourselves in today was all but unimaginable a mere month ago. We may face severe challenges and trials in the weeks ahead. But this is our Bicentennial. We should remember that through the 200 years of our great history we have faced many other crises – Spanish flu, cholera, critical water and energy shortages, acts of nature, fires and wars. We have always recovered and returned even better. This time will be no different. COVID-19 will be contained and defeated. Our campuses will be filled with life and students from Indiana and all over the nation and world again. Teaching and research will return, possibly even enhanced by the creative and innovative use of virtual technologies. We will resume our international engagement again through study abroad. Crowds will cheer again at athletics events. I am fully confident that with all of us working toward this end, we will succeed.

Michael A. McRobbie

Indiana University