F&M Leadership Team leadership@fandm.edu

Tue, Aug 25, 5:16 PM

Dear F&M Community,

On the eve of the start of the academic year, I am writing to acknowledge the tremendous effort on the part of this community to prepare for this pivotal moment, and to provide an update on the current status of our reopening implementation.

A Moment of Gratitude

First and foremost, I want to say THANK YOU to everyone on the Re-Opening Operations Team (ROOT) led by Donna Pflum and Dr. Gretchen Meyers, and with vitally important organization and support from consultants Keeling & Associates. The entire team, representing a broad range of departments and offices across campus, did a phenomenal job preparing us for the fall term. Our careful, well-organized plan to re-open – with many safeguards in place and in alignment with local, state, and federal guidelines – would never have taken shape without ROOT’s hard work, thoughtful approach, thoroughness, problem-solving abilities, and sheer determination. The members of ROOT have done an enormous service to the College, and I’m very grateful.

I also recognize that our community’s resourcefulness and deep care for the institution extends far beyond any one committee and is, in fact, a hallmark of F&M. Our faculty and professional staff have contributed countless hours to developing a powerful and flexible academic and student life experience, and have volunteered to take on a range of functions well beyond their usual job descriptions. We have all had to stretch, sometimes to the point of discomfort, to imagine and realize new ways of working, living, and learning. The need to push to new heights and into new areas of endeavor is something I have spoken about repeatedly with our students, particularly in the context of convocation. Now we, ourselves, have needed to model that approach. Throughout our planning this summer, our students were also very active participants, and we were helpfully informed by student, parent, and alumni feedback. Thank you ALL for going above and beyond in support of our mission!

Pandemic Operations Response Team (PORT)

As we now move from planning to implementation, we have established a new, smaller group charged with overseeing the College’s response to COVID-19, again with assistance from Keeling & Associates. The Pandemic Operations Response Team (PORT) will function as an advisory body to the president and senior officers on the College’s reopening and contingency planning, including review of scenarios that might require F&M to alter course in response to public health and safety concerns. In support of this charge, the team will monitor relevant changes from the CDC, state, and local agencies, along with F&M’s ongoing capacity for compliance with federal, state, and county regulations. PORT will also support the creation and coordination of a campus emergency closing plan, November closing plan, and spring 2021 reopening plan.

The members of PORT are: Donna Pflum (PORT Chair); Dr. Amelia Rauser; Mike Wetzel (also managing site testing coordination); Pierce Buller (ex officio); and Kelseyleigh Hepler (ex officio). PORT will also be ably assisted by Kendel Lyn Jackson who has taken on the role of Quarantine & Isolation Coordinator and Dr. Amy Myers, who continues to play a vital role as our consulting physician.

F&M’s COVID-19 Dashboard

As one of their first undertakings, PORT has created a COVID-19 dashboard that tracks important metrics, assesses F&M’s performance in mitigating risk against multiple indicators and data, and uses an alert level system to guide the College’s response to emerging trends. The F&M COVID-19 dashboard is available on our F&M fall 2020 reopening plan website and will be updated weekly. You will find an example of the alert-level chart below.

On Tuesdays, beginning next week, PORT will also share weekly updates via email. This weekly report will include the College’s current alert level and dashboard, reminders and related information, and any updates to College operations. If there is a sudden increase in cases or other notable change that occurs between these regularly scheduled updates, a timely update will be sent to the F&M community.

Currently F&M’s alert level is moderate, which is described as follows: “Open with risk-mitigation strategies in place. A manageable number of individuals test positive, and contact tracing suggest that exposures are confined to small numbers of people. Effective contact tracing is possible, and there is confidence in the ability to contain, isolate, and remediate small flare-ups.” In order to continue with our reopening plan, it will be essential to hold our position in the moderate alert level. To this aim, we need everyone’s participation in adhering to the F&M Pledge, which the College drafted in close coordination with student leaders. This brings me to a sobering update.

Campus Conduct

On Monday morning, we received a report that a group of students in a college house had failed to follow the F&M Pledge. Their behavior as reported fell into the “high risk” category of violations of the conditions students agreed to when they signed the pledge. Following standard procedure for such violations, we have placed these students on an “interim suspension.” This means they are sent home immediately. Once they are settled at home, we will swiftly begin the student conduct process, which will be expedited and may resolve in permanent suspension, expulsion, or disciplinary probation. 

No such behavior will be tolerated, from students on campus or in College-approved off-campus housing. There is too much at stake for each individual, and for the community. To our students and our families, let me say this: when you chose to come to campus for the term, you knew what you were agreeing to. You are putting yourselves and others at risk if you fail to comply. We can have students in residence and taking in-person classes only if everyone lives up to the pledge. To all employees, my colleagues, I add: that injunction includes all of us! Please make sure to sign the employee pledge, and take it as our guiding document for everything we do this year. Let’s make sure we all model the common-sense behaviors on which the plan is founded. 

In short: I remain convinced that we can do this! 

Silver Linings

On the positive side of the ledger, let’s take time to acknowledge that so much is going well. Positive COVID test numbers are very small. Our virtual Convocation on Sunday was delightful. The House Investiture ceremonies took place. New colleagues have arrived to start their jobs and are already fully engaged. So many employees and students have, in fact, embraced what I’ve started to think of as the “COVID covenant,” finding ways to live and work together even in the conditions a pandemic imposes on us. Along with the inevitable bumps and missteps, we have had numerous happy messages from students and their families. They have expressed gratitude and excitement simply at being here, or for making our signature powerful pedagogy available remotely. I have received thank-you messages for the collective fortitude it has taken to see through this launch of fall term with the necessary precautions in place, and to place our trust in ourselves and each other.

You will hear from me again soon. For the moment, thank you to ROOT, PORT, and the entire F&M community for contributing to a safer F&M and making it possible for us to educate in our own unique way this fall. It has never meant more to say that we are all moving forward, together.

Barbara Altmann