Dear Sul Ross Community and Friends:
No one could have prepared for the situation that we currently face. The COVID-19 pandemic takes us out of our normal reality and places us directly into a surreal existence. I find myself pausing every day to reflect on the circumstances and pray that we will find solutions quickly. But with all that is happening, I am struck by the compassion and caring that we continue to see through the many service industry employees who continue to provide the public with food, medicine, and supplies.
I am especially grateful for the many faculty and staff members who have done extraordinary work over the past week to find solutions to continue our mission. This is unlike anything we wanted to experience, and I appreciate the way so many have stepped up to make sure that Sul Ross is not falling behind in our university operations. I would also like to especially thank our physical plant employees who have continually cleaned and sanitized our buildings to provide a safe environment for people to work.
Our people have been working hard amid the serious concerns and increased anxiety that many feel. It is my firm belief that in order to take care of others, we must also take care of ourselves. With that in mind, I am declaring that Friday, March 20 is Mental Health Day and SRSU employees need to take the day off to get some rest, spend time with families, and take time away from the campus. There will be a few exceptions to this because we must still provide essential services but be assured that I have been in contact with supervisors for them to provide an alternative day off. Many of our employees are still on emergency leave but I am well aware that there are numerous individuals who continued to work on campus or worked remotely this past week. As a mental health day, I am asking that all eligible employees take the day off and do not work on university business on Friday. The work will still be there on Monday, but I am more concerned that you also need a break to rest tomorrow. The CDC recommends that as we continue to go through this crisis, we also need to manage our stress and anxiety.
The uncertainty surrounding this situation has thrown us all off our game, but I commend you all for continuing to do great work for Sul Ross. Our way of doing business will change for the foreseeable future and I thank you for your patience and adaptability as we all go through the overwhelming changes in our lives.
I promised to provide updates as they became available. Below are some additional actions that we have taken in light of the growing concerns.
• Dr. Rob Kinucan, Executive Vice President and Provost and our deans have been meeting regularly as a group and with individual departments to move toward remote delivery of classes quickly. Many faculty members have already contacted students to provide instructions about how their classes will continue for the remainder of the semester. Dr. Kinucan will provide more details about the transition in a separate communication from his office.
• The Sul Ross Childcare Center is closed until further notice. The center does not have the staff necessary to meet state requirements due to a strong reliance on student assistants. The center cannot remain open under those conditions. Additionally, by keeping the center closed we are following federal guidelines and practicing social distancing while not allowing gatherings of 10 or more people.
• We provided the following information to the Texas State University System in our discussion with system staff and other presidents. We still have many students who will remain on campus as this is their primary residence. We are not asking our students who show the greatest need for university housing to move to alternative locations, they are welcome to remain in university housing. We will keep the dining services open at the Morgan University Center and the C-Store at the Lobo Village Building open for on-campus residents only.
• Students who plan to move out of university housing early must schedule appointments with Housing Staff by calling 432.837.8190 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We must maintain an orderly process for move out to follow the guidelines set forth by the CDC and maintain social distancing. Students who choose to move out early will receive a housing credit for use beginning in Fall 2020 that is a pro-rated amount of the cost of their rooms in the various halls. Different halls charge different amounts, so this is not a one-size fits all credit. Students moving out who are graduating this May, who are recipients of Hazlewood education benefits, or formerly in foster care will receive cash refunds. The process/details for refunds is continuing to be refined and once details are finalized there will be further communication.
• As of yesterday, Brewster County (Alpine Campus), Val Verde County (Del Rio Campus), and Maverick County (Eagle Pass Campus) issued a Declaration of Local State of Disaster which provides our local government with wide authority to take actions that will protect the county and city residents. Please follow any directives given by your local government officials with regard to health and safety guidelines specific to your areas.
• As previously mentioned, the University will remain closed to the public until further notice. This includes students and visitors. Only authorized personnel will be allowed entrance to university buildings. University employees may continue to work on campus while practicing social distancing and following other CDC guidelines. Visitors and students needing assistance from our offices should call or email university employees for help rather than attempting to enter university buildings for face-to-face contact.
• University employees are encouraged to work from home, if possible. A telecommuting agreement will need to be completed for this consideration and in order to be considered for available equipment to check out. Human Resources is working on making the form electronic for quicker responses and will have that up and running soon. We understand that some positions will not permit working remotely and will require some employees to be on campus to conduct business. We ask that all employees on campus keep office doors locked, practice social distancing, and follow CDC guidelines. All other employees whose jobs do not lend themselves to remote work will continue to receive emergency leave until further notice. Our primary objective is to continue university operations in a limited capacity so that we do not fall behind our reporting requirements or necessary business during this situation.
• Students who are employed by the university will fall under the same guidance as full-time employees. Supervisors must determine if student employees are needed to conduct essential university business functions. In those cases, students will be permitted to either work on campus under the same restrictions as stated above or may be permitted to work remotely if possible. All other student employees will be treated with the same guidelines as regular employees and be given emergency leave until further notice.
• We have received a fair number of questions about Sul Ross’ response to COVID-19. We compiled questions into a Frequently Asked Questions section on our COVID-19 webpage. You may have other questions or input that you would like to share and we welcome your feedback. Please submit your questions on the SRSU COVID-19 FAQ page >> Ask a Question. The SRSU COVID-19 Response webpage has updates, resources, and information that will assist you during this unusual situation.
• We will continue to allow certain categories of employees to remain on Emergency Leave to refrain from having to use employees’ accrued annual leave or sick leave. Again, some employees have continued to work both on campus and remotely this week. Your supervisors should be in contact with you to assess your ability to work on campus or remotely, all others will remain on Emergency Leave until further notice. We are actively attempting to limit the number of employees on campus to follow CDC guidelines and encourage people to stay at home.
• As you know, Sul Ross State University cancelled May Commencement Exercises. We understand that many students and families are heartbroken, as we feel, about this action but felt we could not delay the decision as it is only 8 weeks away. Students who complete the requirements to graduate in May will be mailed diplomas and transcripts will be available. The Commencement Ceremony is important to the symbolism and ritual to provide celebratory closure to academic careers but your progress remains viable and should be a priority for our students. We encourage you to consider participating in our December Ceremony but we are so proud of your progress as it stands. We are actively brainstorming ways that we can celebrate your achievement through virtual means in May, stay tuned.
The exponential growth of this virus requires each of us to do our part. We cannot panic in this crisis and we must think of each other so that we can all work together. Please do not hoard products, stay home as much as possible regardless of whether you are ill, avoid gatherings (small or large), help others when you can, and please take breaks from watching the news for your mental health. The CDC guidelines remain the same and ask that we all:
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then dispose of it properly
- Avoid touching your face
- Disinfect items you touch frequently including your phones, tablets, & computers.
- Stay home if you are sick and reach out to your medical provider if needed.
- Practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.
The following quote with a few Lobo tweaks is never more appropriate than now:
“For the strength of the pack is the Lobo, and the strength of the Lobo is the pack” adapted from Rudyard Kipling.
Be strong and lean on each other during this time of uncertainty, together we will come out of this. Thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we make progress. The information continues to change rapidly, please go to our SRSU COVID-19 Response webpage for updates.
My best to you,
Bill Kibler, President