UF’s reopening plan moves forward

President Kent Fuchs
June 1, 2020

A column by UF President Kent Fuchs in The Independent Florida Alligator discussing planning and decision-making for the fall semester.

The University of Florida is committed to reopening and to welcoming students back to campus for the fall semester.   We are not waiting for COVID-19 to disappear, or for a cure or vaccine.   We have decided that we must learn to live, study, and work in the midst of COVID-19.

UF’s draft plan for reopening is available on UF’s COVID-19 update site. I encourage everyone in the UF community to review our draft plan and to provide input by email to reopen@ufl.edu.   The Board of Trustees will provide their input on Friday. 

The Board of Governors for the State University System this past Thursday provided a three-page blueprint for reopening the system.  That blueprint is also available on UF’s COVID-19 web site.  Each university will submit its Board of Trustees-endorsed plan to the Board of Governors on June 12, and the Board of Governors will vote on all plans on June 23.

Please know that UF’s plan will evolve as the status of COVID-19 evolves.  Also, the plan is not intended to address all of the thousands of important questions students, faculty, staff and families will have. Nor does it provide all the details on the hundreds of issues and decisions that will continue to be made as we approach the fall semester.  Our plan is intended to provide an overview of our strategy and plans as guided by the system’s blueprint.

In reality, UF has been reopening since the beginning of May, when we launched our UF Health Screen, Test & Protect program.  We are in the midst of providing opportunities for every employee to be tested and to return to work on campus.  As of May 29, we had tested approximately 4,500 employees, with four positive COVID-19 cases.  Our COVID-19 web site, cited by the Chronicle of Higher Education this week for UF’s transparency, will provide weekly updates on the total number of tests and number of positive cases. 

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the thousands of employees who never had the opportunity to leave campus, particularly our health care workers, grounds and facilities employees, custodians, food providers, university housing staff and campus police.  

More than any university I know, UF has the opportunity to lead in safely reopening. 

We are one of the few universities that owns world-class hospitals with an academic health center.  We have faculty and staff who are experts in epidemiology and public health.  We have faculty leading research on vaccines, therapies and modeling COVID-19.  Our Gainesville campus is in a community that has flattened the curve and has not had a surge of cases that threatened the capacity of our hospitals.  

Today, Thomas Holton, a staff writer for The Independent Florida Alligator, shared that he is working on a story documenting what students miss most about UF.  

For me, since Linda and I live on campus, I miss the people of UF.  I miss seeing new and old friends in Turlington Plaza and Plaza of the Americas.  I miss the sounds of the marching band practicing and the site of hammocks filled with students studying and resting.

I know that when our students, staff, and faculty have returned this fall, life will not be the same.  We will practice physical distancing, and we will use a lot of hand sanitizer and learn to consistently wear our masks. Many classes will need to be taught online to keep students and professors as safe as possible. However, I will gladly do all the things I can to keep our UF community healthy as long as I can once again see all the people back and enjoying and benefiting from our wonderful campus.  

Now is the time for Florida Gators to lead.  We are, and we will.