Reflecting on the fall semester
Students, faculty and staff,
As the semester winds down and we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I want to take a moment to say how thankful I am for your efforts. This has been a semester of great challenges — but also great successes, thanks to you.
Think back to the summer when we were planning to reopen campus. If the task at hand seemed daunting, that’s because it was. How, amid a global pandemic, could we safely reopen an institution that by its very nature thrives on engagement, interaction and togetherness? And how could we do this in a way that not only prioritized the health of our students and employees, but also the broader community of Lawrence and Douglas County?
As we now know, the answer was you — specifically your talent, resilience and commitment. And thanks to you, our semester has gone as well as we could have hoped given the circumstances.
Since reopening campus, we have had no known cases of transmission within our classrooms and no health department-declared outbreaks stemming from university events. More broadly, Douglas County has been one of the nation’s safest regions thanks to the coordination of community partners. We know some members of our community have struggled with COVID, yet we have been able to respond with care and support them through this challenge. I am exceedingly grateful to share we have had no student deaths and no employee deaths due to the virus. While continuing to be respectful of the nation’s ongoing public health challenges, I think it is appropriate to pause and celebrate our successes and to thank you for helping achieve them.
Of course, we didn’t reopen campus just to be here. We did it because KU’s mission is crucial to society, and we continued to fulfill that mission this fall. For example, we created a flexible curriculum to meet the distinctive needs of students during the pandemic. We expanded our Bioscience & Technology Business Center and created the Task Force on Community-Responsive Public Safety. And we are participating in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, as well as numerous COVID-related studies at KU Medical Center, including basic science research, community health research and testing possible treatments. This is the kind of work that is expected of KU as a public research institution and member of the Association of American Universities.
Looking ahead, KU will continue to face challenges. The most immediate is a challenge of public health, with the number of new COVID cases increasing each day and hospitals in our region at or near capacity. This will continue to impact each of us as individuals in the days ahead and will also affect our university as we work to safely welcome students, faculty and staff back to campus in February.
Additionally, KU faces an $80 million Fiscal Year 2022 deficit that will require exceptional cost-savings measures such as furloughs, layoffs, program closures, and changes to organizational structures and processes. This will be painful and require careful planning and analysis, but it is necessary to ensure the long-term health of the university. I truly believe KU will emerge on the other end a more focused and competitive university that is better positioned to serve students and society.
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to reiterate how grateful I am for each of you. To our students, I am thankful you trusted us with your education, and I look forward to seeing you on campus in the spring. To our faculty and staff, I am thankful for your herculean efforts to reimagine and reconfigure campus so we can continue our mission. To our community partners, I am thankful for the collaboration that enabled us to make KU as safe any location in the country. And to the network of Jayhawk alumni and friends, I am grateful for your unyielding support of KU.
Have a safe and healthy holiday.
Douglas A. Girod