Campus Update: Preparing for a return to campus

As I prepare for another quick Zoom visit, this time to Professor Jeremy Duff’s class on the presidency, I have been thinking of how different higher education leadership has become in these last three months. While we have always answered to a wide range of stakeholders, I have yet to report to as many as now. Two simple cases in point: our offices of business and financial aid have struggled for weeks to get the requirements clarified for as many MSU students as possible to receive CARES support. It was important to get it right not only for our students’ sake but also for our own accountability to this federal funding source. And though we would like to set our own schedule around when and how to reopen campus, we must look to local, state, national, and even international sources of information to determine best steps in that regard.

So if we get out ahead of or lag behind one of our MSU stakeholder group’s need for information, we ask for your understanding. We may be trying to present updates that faculty or students have asked for and then catch our staff unaware, or the other way around. We will continue to share our messages based on the timing of particular audiences, and this week, it is primarily our staff and faculty I would like to address.

First and foremost thank you for continuing to provide teaching and services so needed by our students under these trying circumstances. We know you have many hurdles and distractions in your work and private lives, and we appreciate how you have kept us going strong for all Mustangs. I have heard of your efforts through so many channels and your actions make us all very proud.

I have also heard your concerns regarding the return to campus, your employment status, and how existing job descriptions may need to change. While we do face uncertain times ahead financially, I have asked the Budget Oversight Committee (BOC) to keep true to two goals in their heightened responsibility to provide us guidance on possible reductions. First, to safeguard our resources to provide the highest possible level of service and teaching to our students. And second, to protect the livelihoods of our current workforce. In this letter, drafted with help from the BOC, are the next steps in our budget process. I hope the points clarified there give us all a greater sense of security and belonging to the MSU community in the coming days.

Finally, we are ready to develop a detailed plan for returning to campus that will illustrate a phased approach over the summer and into the fall. I have asked Provost James Johnston and Vice President Keith Lamb to chair this task force and provide me with a plan that can continually be modified while still laying out a proposed timeline with action steps. While the full report may not be completed for several weeks, I can say that our next important step is in expanding our list of essential employees who can return to campus as Governor Abbott informs us on May 18 of his plans to further open the State. Those staff eligible to return to work on campus will be notified by their supervisors, who will discuss with them how and when their assignments will be carried out, whether fully on campus or still partially remotely. It is likely that, if conditions continue to improve across the state, a second expansion of staff on campus will be completed in early June with a third and final expansion by mid-June. As the task force and President’s Cabinet determine guidelines for each major step in the return to campus process, the campus community will be notified. Please take time to read the announcement link above. As soon as members have accepted their invitation to join the taskforce, the link will be updated with their names so you know whom you may contact with questions or concerns.

For now, I wish you all well and thank you for your continued commitment to our students, to each other, and to MSU Texas.

Suzanne Shipley