Dear UWM Faculty and Staff,
I write today to share updates on our planning and the processes we are using to create a new UWM. It’s fair to say that – thanks to your help – UWM handled the initial six weeks of this pandemic with immediacy, prioritizing the protection of students and employees, and communicating at unprecedented levels and frequency. We must now think ahead and prepare for the future with a spirit of doing whatever it takes to safely continue our academic, educational, research and engagement mission.
You have probably heard, “life can change in the blink of an eye.” In just the last week, UWM experienced changes with funding, furloughs and launching our planning for how UWM will operate in the fall. In light of cataclysmic change at both personal and societal levels, people are asking, “How do we get back to where we were?” The answer is, we won’t. As Panthers, what we must ask instead is, “What is needed for the future of UWM, for our students, faculty and staff, and the larger communities that we serve?”
I am proud of the valiant actions at each of our campuses to manage the disruptions and engage so meaningfully during this pandemic. From converting classes online, moving students out of residence halls, learning how to meet and work remotely, and becoming accustomed to operating around the clock to decide upon new courses of action, you have all responded admirably. Special recognition is deserved for our researchers and volunteers so diligently working on COVID-19. As but one example, Engineering Professor Konstantin Sobolev is leading a team of researchers that’s creating a spray that could protect surfaces from contamination. Other researchers from several of our schools and colleges are actively fighting the coronavirus, along with campus teams volunteering for PPE supply drives and other important activities.
These efforts – and more importantly, the people behind them – have my deepest appreciation and thanks. So many of our faculty and staff are part of the solution. I am confident that we have the right people and processes to help us succeed.
Years into the future, we will look back at the tumultuous change and how our people rose to the occasion with ingenuity, fearlessness and humanity to transform UWM for what lies beyond COVID-19. We have come so far already with technological shifts, nimbleness and adaptability. I can see a time when we will marvel at what we have become and wonder, “Why weren’t we doing things this way before?”
That said, I also share many of your concerns about the future. There are no easy choices now. The pandemic is unlike a hurricane or forest fire; it will not be contained quickly and allow us to revert to the UWM we knew just a few months ago. And yet, there are some silver linings. Let me explain.
Historically, we have adapted quite well
Before COVID-19 dealt its devastation, UW-Milwaukee was facing enrollment, financial and operational challenges. Although higher education is not known for its agility to rapidly embrace change, UWM and the UW System (UWS) have historically adapted to best serve the needs of Wisconsin. Recognizing our major turning points of the past strengthens the resolve for where we are going.
Two major turning points come to mind. When the population grew dramatically after World War I, the Regents voted to discontinue college courses and instead focus only on the instruction of teachers. To meet that need, we began offering four-year education-related degrees and evolved into the Milwaukee State Teachers College. Less than two decades later, millions of veterans returned home needing civilian careers. The demand for higher education was overwhelming and the college was authorized to award more four-year bachelor’s degrees. Five years later, UWM became a doctoral research university. Each turning point was spurred by major historical events, and each time we rose to meet needs and advance positive change.
Our future’s turning point is now
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 represents a significant inflection point today, requiring accelerated creativity and change. What won’t change is our continuous engagement with shared governance and inclusion of key stakeholders as we continue to provide access to a high-quality education and top-tier engaged research. Building on our forward-thinking strategic directions, we formed and charged the Think Tank 2030+ work group to envision a different future. Composed of faculty, staff and students, including governance leads, this group was planning aggressively and developing recommendations when the pandemic struck. This group will finish its work soon, and many of its members are participating in the scenario planning group discussed below.
In my most recent (May 1) campus message, I shared our financial outlook. Last week, the UW System announced its Blueprint for the University of Wisconsin System Beyond COVID-19, which is also clearly a turning point toward the future. UWS’ blueprint is subject to Regent approval at a later date — presumably the June Regent meeting. I note that the UWS plans regarding program reviews do not include UWM. We had completed much work in this area well before the pandemic hit and will continue to review and refine programs through traditional faculty and staff governance channels.
UWM is preparing for the future
Looking ahead, we are engaged in extensive planning, deeply examining health and safety, financial and operational scenarios. Our goal is to open campus for students, faculty and staff this fall in the safest way possible given important factors. What does this mean, exactly?
Although we have not yet made a decision about fall, we are moving forward with several plans to get us there. We are looking at how we test for COVID-19 on campus, methods to track cases, enact definitive ways to social distance and – when needed – separate and isolate groups of people, and attain necessary personal protective equipment. There are a range of other things that we are examining, including plans for masks and sanitation, classroom cleaning, sanitation stations, traffic patterns on campus, accommodations for those who need them, and more. Many of our jobs will look different than they do now. Work groups are considering many possibilities, including:
- Hybrid face-to-face in the fall, with two versions:
– Majority face-to-face instruction with some select courses online
– Majority of online instruction with some select courses face-to-face
- Fall all online
- Online all year
Scenario planning work will conclude at the end of this month, and our goal is to decide about fall in early- to mid-June. We will drive these efforts and address logistics through June and July, communicating with you regularly. We have a responsibility to plan for the various scenarios with health and safety as the top priority, and we will defer to state and local health authorities. How and when we move forward thereafter is contingent on where the world is in midsummer. What will student interest be – how many will take a gap year or a semester? For those communities that “open” before ours, will there be a resurgence of the coronavirus that heralds a public health warning? Many questions remain.
More communications are forthcoming, and we are in the early planning stages for another virtual town hall meeting for faculty and staff in a few weeks. I encourage you to review the most up-to-date FAQs on our coronavirus website. If you don’t see your question answered, you can submit it via the webpage form or feel free to share your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we look ahead, we know that UWM will not operate in the same way it did in the past. What got us to where we are today will not work the same way going forward. We need — and will create together— a new model for UWM. What will be constant is our commitment to students, our inclusion and our core mission that seeks to open doors to education, equitably and affordably, and to uphold research and knowledge creation and dissemination.
There is no doubt in my mind that UWM, Milwaukee and Wisconsin will need you to not only emerge from this pandemic but to ignite our economy. Our state will be hobbled without an educated citizenry that has 21st century skills and competencies and can think critically. Moreover, the research we do is helping to solve the most vexing problems we face. We have the right people taking the right steps to work inclusively with shared governance, faculty, staff and students to get us there. You have my most profound gratitude.
Mark A. Mone
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Note: The original list of dates for intermittent furloughs for 9-month employees identified March 29, 2021, as a mandatory furlough date. Upon further consideration, to avoid disruption in instruction, that date has changed to May 14, 2021.
The dates for intermittent furloughs in fiscal year 2021 are:
1. Friday, July 3, 2020
2. Friday, Aug. 21, 2020
3. Friday, Oct. 30, 2020
4. Friday, Nov. 27, 2020
5. Monday, Dec. 28, 2020
6. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
7. Friday, March 26, 2021
8. Friday, May 28, 2021
1. Monday, Aug. 31, 2020
2. Friday, Nov. 27, 2020
3. Monday, Dec. 28, 2020
4. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
5. Friday, March 26, 2021
6. Friday, May 14, 2021
In addition, 12-month employees will take a furlough day on June 19, 2020.
More information about intermittent furloughs is on the UWM Human Resources website.