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Outlook for Fall 2021

Dear Members of the UD Community:

I am grateful for the tremendous patience and diligence that you have exercised throughout this challenging year. During my tenure as provost and now as president, I have heard from many of you who are thankful we were able to provide students the opportunity for in-person learning, while allowing for the flexibility of online classes and work schedules to accommodate the most vulnerable among us. Our faculty and staff have worked extraordinarily hard to make this a reality, and they especially deserve our thanks.

Looking ahead to the fall, I am very optimistic that we will be able to resume campus life fully and with very few, if any, of the current COVID protocols in place. New and returning students and employees will not be required to be vaccinated to return to campus, whether in Irving or Rome, but the situation in Europe is different than that in the U.S., and for reasons beyond our control, there could be severe restrictions on travelling in Europe for those who choose not to be vaccinated. Although we are looking at the possibility of offering vaccines to students and employees (just as we offer the flu vaccine on a voluntary basis in our Health Center), we believe a good number have already voluntarily sought vaccinations. Whatever we do on campus, we are committed to following the recommendations and guidance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Diocese of Dallas, and trusted sources such as the National Catholic Bioethics Center, to ensure only morally acceptable options are offered.

A number of factors give us hope for a more normal academic year--the increasing rate of vaccinations, the continuing downward trend of active cases both on campus and in North Texas, and the fact that we now have the policies and infrastructure in place to respond nimbly if circumstances require. In addition to these practical reasons for anticipating a return to normalcy in the fall, there are other, and in some ways more important, reasons to consider.

First, we are social beings and can only flourish in common life with each other. Therefore, a fully restored community is essential to our well-being. We cannot underestimate the mental health toll the pandemic and its management has taken among young adults in our country, due in large part to fear and isolation. Our own students are not immune to these challenges. Being in relationship with one another and building bonds of trust and friendship are goods that enable us to be fully human, and they require being physically present with each other to be realized.

Second, thanks to the work of our COVID Preparedness Committee, we have learned to mitigate the risk of possible spread by adopting protocols, guidelines, and best practices from the CDC and state/local health authorities when needed. Having weathered outbreaks both here in Irving and in Rome, our experiences this past year have taught us how to shift and respond quickly as needed should circumstances change.

Third, consistent with Catholic social teaching, we will continue to approach evaluation of our COVID measures and protocols from the principle of subsidiarity. We recognize that individuals and families can and should assess their own circumstances and level of risk of COVID, and make decisions about mitigating that risk accordingly. We must also trust that at-risk individuals will act to protect themselves, and encourage all to act with concern for the vulnerable around them in a manner consistent with a deference to the common good.

A decision is still forthcoming on the return-to-work policy for employees, and we will provide that guidance in a separate communication after we have had a chance to consider the results of a recent employee survey on the current flexible work schedule policy that is in place until May 31.

Of course, this vision of returning to normal by the fall, if not sooner, may change if COVID cases rise or other unforeseen circumstances necessitate it. But I hope this letter provides sufficient guidance that our intent is to ‘return to normal’ as much as possible this fall, which I firmly believe is the best way for us to fulfill our educational mission, together.

Pres Sanford Signature
Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D.
Provost (until 7/21)
Professor of Philosophy