3/12/20 Script, Message from the President

Hello. I know that many of you have concerns about the novel coronavirus outbreak, also called COVID-19, and that you may have questions about how Cal Poly is responding and why we are responding the way that we are.  

Our response is driven by three fundamental principles:

  1. As an institution of higher education, we make decisions based on facts and evidence.
  2. The safety of our students, staff and faculty comes before any other goal or consideration.
  3. Student success is what all of our efforts and decisions are aimed at.

The California State University has directed all campuses to coordinate our decisions with local public health officials. Since there are no diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in San Luis Obispo County so far, the advice of our own experts and county officials is that we continue with operations essential to student success as planned.  We are also in close contact with city and county governments, K-12 schools, and Cuesta and Hancock Community Colleges.

Other CSU and UC campuses face different local conditions than we do. Following that same directive, and making decisions based on facts and evidence, some schools have decided that temporary closure or changing to online course delivery is the best step for their campuses.

The San Luis Obispo County Department of Health has advised that risk of transmission in our area is currently very low. In addition, faculty have taught their courses and prepared their final exams assuming that we would complete the last week of classes and have in-person exams. Given these factors, we believe proceeding as planned through the end of the quarter maximizes student success while still putting safety first.

Therefore, unless the situation changes, the plan is to complete this final week of instruction and to go ahead with our planned, in-person final exams.

Honestly, we don’t know what the overall coronavirus situation will be after Spring Break. It is possible that travel restrictions will have been lifted and that spring quarter will proceed more-or-less as usual. However, it is also possible that local public health officials may request that we discourage or even forbid students who have left San Luis Obispo County from physically returning to campus. Therefore, we are currently working with faculty to be prepared to take their classes virtual, if that turns out to be both necessary and consistent with student success. In any event, it is likely that we will offer at least some spring quarter classes virtually, to protect members of our community who are medically vulnerable.

In light of the need to prepare for the possibility of virtual course delivery, we will delay the start of the spring quarter until April 6.  This will allow our faculty and staff the full week starting March 30 to prepare for virtual offering of courses and services.  We will be offering workshops for faculty throughout spring break and the week of March 30. 

We have set March 25 (or earlier) as the date by which we will communicate to all students whether classes will be virtual, and whether students who have left the SLO area should return. Even if we adopt 100% virtual class delivery for spring quarter, campus will be open for students who have chosen to stay here over Spring Break.   Please know that unless ordered to do otherwise, we will maintain our campus services for all students, faculty and staff during Spring Break and throughout spring quarter, regardless of other changes—this includes Campus Housing, Dining, and programs that provide basic needs support.

I want to reassure students and parents: we do not currently foresee any scenario under which Cal Poly would simply close and offer no spring courses. Unless things change very dramatically, spring classes will go forward and seniors will graduate.

I also want to reassure faculty: you are the people who can best determine how to deliver your courses virtually, if that becomes necessary, and we are open to creative and flexible ideas. We have changed the start date for spring quarter to ensure that you have paid time to make the transition.

I’d like to address one question that I know is on many people’s minds: given the uncertainties, isn’t it safer and more prudent to decide now that spring quarter will be delivered entirely virtually? The answer is No. Some courses can be taught excellently through online or other virtual means, but others cannot, and in any case faculty have very little time to transition their courses to new modes of instruction. All-virtual would be better than not offering classes at all, but it is distinctly less good than how we usually teach. Like I said before, we make decisions based on facts and evidence, keeping safety as our priority, but always seeking to ensure student success. We are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best, and waiting until we know more before deciding which has come to pass.

As you know, earlier this week Cal Poly encouraged all students, faculty, and staff to strongly consider cancelling plans you may have for non-essential travel, especially over Spring Break. Given what we know now, Cal Poly appears to be a relatively safe place to be. So far, we have no known COVID-19 cases on campus or in the surrounding community. Given the small population of the county and the distance to large cities, we are relatively isolated. Unfortunately, this relative isolation works both for us and against us. It protects us during the school year, but it also means that students who may be exposed while traveling may inadvertently bring illnesses back into the County.

We realize that Spring Break is an important opportunity to relax, see family and friends, and to have new and valuable experiences. We understand that not everyone will be able to cancel or postpone travel plans. We ask only that you take seriously the possible risks of being exposed to the coronavirus during travel or at your destination, and the danger that you might inadvertently and unknowingly bring it back to Cal Poly. If you can change or postpone non-essential travel, please do so.

We are also carefully evaluating events – especially those large in attendance and attracting people from many areas of the state and beyond.  Again, we are especially focused on the spring quarter. 

With all these points in mind, and based on an abundance of caution, the following decisions have been made regarding at least the first half (and likely all) of the spring quarter:

  • Nonessential domestic and non-level 3 CDC international travel has been suspended, as noted in previous communications; essential travel may be approved Vice Presidents
  • Travel to level 3 CDC countries is prohibited
  • Open House and associated activities, including Poly Cultural Weekend, have been canceled.
  • Campus tours for prospective students have been canceled through the end of spring quarter.
  • All Cal Poly athletic events will be fanless

Here is a summary of our current response plans, based on the most recent information and guidance from public health authorities:

  • in-person classes will continue to meet through the end of this week;
  • in-person exams will be conducted next week as scheduled;
  • we are preparing to deliver classes fully virtually after Spring Break, if circumstances warrant;
  • spring quarter will start for students on Monday, April 6, rather than the originally scheduled date of March 30; faculty will report to work on March 30, and we will use the four workdays that week (Tuesday being a holiday) to transition to virtual course delivery;

Because this situation is changing so rapidly, we expect circumstances to change in unpredictable ways between now and the start of spring quarter. Since we can’t know what those developments will be, we are setting a date by which we will inform you of any further changes for spring quarter: March 25. Please be sure to check your Cal Poly email!

Beyond these announcements, the faculty, staff, and administration are watching the COVID-19 outbreak carefully, and if our local situation changes, we will respond appropriately, by following our three principles of making decisions based on facts and evidence, putting the safety of the community first, and ensuring student success.

Please remember that we have resources for you – students can contact the counseling center and 24/7 hotline at 805-756-2511.  Faculty and staff can contact the employee assistance program at 800-367-7474. 

Please remember always that prevention is key.  Whether it’s coronavirus, flu, or a cold, hand-washing with soap and water continues to be the very best way to protect against viral infection.  Students, in particular, please practice prevention and social distancing.  While you are less susceptible, you can be a carrier of the virus.  We are especially concerned for members of our community with underlying health issues or those over 60 and especially over 80 years of age.

Finally, I’d like to ask everyone to remember that Cal Poly is more than a university, and more than a community—it is a family. Please help each other. Please treat each other with love, empathy and respect.  Please be flexible in your plans and expectations. And please take care of each other.

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