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Update for faculty, staff, and students

McGovern College faculty, staff, and students:

I couldn't have been more excited to see students moving into the residential complexes this morning as I rode my bike through the campus. One week before the start of the fall semester, we now have activity on campus that, while not at the level we usually see, is at a level not seen since early March. It is truly invigorating, and it reminds us all of why we have come to the university and why we continue to make it our professional home.

Public health and safety

I direct everyone's attention to the need to be constantly vigilant in observing the public health and safety guidelines published by the University of Houston, the city of Houston, Harris County, and the CDC. The University of Houston's Covid-19 webpage in particular provides a comprehensive information portal, with explanations of general prevention guidelines, university policies (including the face coverings policy), remote teaching and learning resources, answers to frequently asked questions, and many other items. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with this resource if you haven't already. The site is continually updated to reflect the most current information, so please continue to monitor it regularly.

Within the College, we have posted discipline-specific information on the return to the fall semester for all of our schools and programs. Please familiarize yourself with the informational webpages for the School of Art, the Moores School of Music (complete with a comprehensive MSM Health and Safety Reference manual), the School of Theatre & Dance, and the Arts Leadership Program. These webpages include information on fall course enrollment, events, facility access, fall performances, unit-specific health and safety guidelines, and many other items.

More on the face coverings policy

Many of you are aware that the University of Houston, like many other institutions nationwide, requires face coverings at all times while you are on campus. This is but one component of our mandate to tale responsibility for maintaining the health and safety of our campus--all part of the Coog Strong, Mask On campaign.

To be specific, university policy is that you must wear a face covering while you are in any indoor public areas on campus, except where marked, even if you are alone; this includes all non-private office or residential spaces, such as lobbies, restrooms, classrooms, teaching and research laboratories, common spaces in residence halls, conference rooms, and break rooms. You also must wear a mask outdoors on campus, when six feet or more of physical distancing is difficult to reliably maintain. 

Many of you will immediately note--and have already noted--the difficulty of complying with the face coverings policy while also engaging in arts activities, especially in the performing arts. However, even though compliance is difficult, the policy remains in force: we must wear a mask at all times. Current, nationally published scientific findings--such as those available from the study "Aerosol Generation from Playing Band Instruments, Singing, and Performing, and Risk of Infectious Disease Transmission," led by a team based in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder and supported by a broad, international coalition of arts and arts-educational organizations--make clear that this can be done, even in specialized performing arts situations, and they make clear why it is important to do so. The spread of respiratory aerosol particles is currently recognized as one of the primary factors in virus transmission. Some performing arts activities involve higher than normal expulsion of air or the use of the vocal cords--like playing wind instruments, singing, acting, and dancing or other similar aerobic activities--and therefore carry higher risk of transmission. These activities must be conducted carefully, with additional health and safety interventions.

Current science also makes clear that it is possible to apply effective interventions. Specialized masks designed for singing and acting, for example, are available, and we will be providing these for students and faculty members. A simply surgical mask with a slit cut in the area of the mouth makes possible the playing of a wind instrument. In every one of these cases, current science shows that these interventions--the wearing of an appropriate mask, combined with social distancing, the use of strategically positioned portable HEPA filters (which we are installing in situations that call for them), or modifications of wind instruments such as with bell coverings--all reduce the risk of virus transmission to extremely low levels. Therefore we are requiring these interventions. Our policies are consistent with those of numerous other leading performing and visual arts colleges nationwide.

The conclusion that we should draw here is that it will be possible for us to continue to engage in the full educational experience that a university and an arts college promises, on campus and in person, only if we make a commitment to doing it safely. And that means adopting practices that may be uncomfortable and inconvenient--health interventions that no one would choose to make, in ideal circumstances--but that are safe, practical, easy, and, ultimately, not permanent.

Fall enrollment and campus activities

Many of you have studied the fall course schedule; selected the classes, formats, and times that work for you; and enrolled for fall 2020 courses. If you have not, and if you have questions pertaining to fall enrollment--whether on instructional delivery formats, safety, course options, etc.--please contact either me, Associate Dean Beckham Dossett, your Director, or a member of our academic advising team.

We have scheduled a number of on-campus activities throughout the fall semester. The Blaffer Art Museum will reopen on September 1; Moores School of Music performances will resume, with limited audiences, as early as September 18; and various other student-oriented events will be announced during the semester. Health and safety, for you and for our public audiences, will be a primary concern at every one of these events, and we have strict health and safety guidelines in place. I invite you to participate in campus life safely, and as fully as possible, this fall. This is why you have come to the University of Houston, and this is why we have gone to extraordinary lengths to plan for a resumption of arts instruction and other activities this fall.

Fall welcome reception for graduate students and faculty

Mark your calendars for our annual fall welcome reception for graduate students and faculty, this Thursday from 5:00 to 5:45, virtually on Microsoft Teams. The program will include a welcome from me, an opportunity to meet the McGovern College leadership and learn more about what's happening in the college and in our schools and programs, and a virtual toast to you as we kick off the fall semester. Bring the beverage of your choice! Please join us.

Additional updates and informational items:

  • I remind everyone to please ensure that you are regularly reading your University of Houston email account. This will ensure that you continue to receive all College and University informational items that are sent via email. These updates will not be sent to personal email addresses.

  • Please note that today, August 17, UIT implemented two-factor authentication on the University web portal AccessUH. This raises University web security and is consistent with national standards. You will see this the first time you log onto AccessUH, starting today. You will have several options for how to complete the authentication; depending on the option you choose, you might also need to download a smartphone app. (I tried this approach myself this morning and the entire process took less than two minutes.) You will not need to repeat this process every time you log in; your two-factor authentication remains valid for thirty days at a time.

  • Remote Learning Stations: if you have opted for any of our hyflex class options in your fall schedule, with face-to-face instruction, you may find that you are in need of a "remote learning station" on campus from which you can attend class (a synchronous online class, for example), study, or work. (The spaces may not be used for socializing or resting.) If you need of such a space, please email either me, Associate Dean Beckham Dossett, or your Director. If you are in the Moores School of Music, please indicate your need for a remote learning station on this reservation form.

Two non-University but equally important items

The entire McGovern College team would like to provide you with additional information on two civic issues: how to complete the 2020 U.S. Census, and how to register to vote. A number of our faculty and staff have been working hard to keep the entire College community fully informed on these issues--in a busy year that is a census year as well as an election year. Here's what you need to know and where to find more information:

On the census:

The deadline to respond to the U.S. Census is September 30. More information is here. Note that residential university students are normally counted "at the place where they are living and sleeping most of the time" on the "census day," which was April 1, 2020 (see this page for more details).

On voting:

The McGovern College is launching a “Pick A Date, Take a Buddy” campaign for Election 2020. This initiative includes two phases: (1) registering to vote by October 5; and (2) identifying an early-voting date to go to the polls and vote with a friend.

Several of our faculty members have compiled a voting information sheet with everything you need to know about voting, including registration, voting procedures, informational resources, and more.

Important voting dates:

  • October 5: last day to register to vote
  • October 13--October 30: early voting
  • November 3: Election Day
Finally, I thank all of our faculty and staff for their extraordinary work this summer in preparing to deliver arts instruction under these circumstances. And I thank every one of our students who have either returned to the University of Houston or who are joining us for the first time. I hope to meet you soon.

Andrew Davis