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The Path Forward: Messages

UD Path Forward: Message to Faculty and Staff


Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues, We conferred a record number of degrees this past weekend to University of Dayton students, all of whom produced imaginative work and showed much resilience as they completed their programs of study over the miles. I feel the same sense of pride in you, my colleagues, who juggled your work remotely while caring for and tending to loved ones during a time of great upheaval and uncertainty. Our graduating students would not have reached this pinnacle without the support and sacrifices of our entire University community. I recognize your agility and hard work and, from my heart, I thank you.

At this time of upheaval and uncertainty, I ask you to take heart. We are blessed to be part of a university with a deep history and strong values that guide us. We have a higher purpose: we educate students to be servant-leaders, we conduct research for the common good, and we help to build community here in Dayton and around the world.

We are at our best when we are in community together, and it is for that reason that we are pivoting toward re-opening campus in the fall as our highest priority. I believe that — if we put our minds to it, make a mutual commitment to each other, work collaboratively with public health officials and heed the recommendations of medical experts, be flexible and agile in our approach to learning and living on campus, and grant each other grace — we can safely and successfully come together on the UD campus this fall.

Of course, we can’t yet guarantee it given all the unknowns. We don’t know how long this crisis will last and, as Provost Paul Benson clearly noted in virtual town hall meetings last week, no university can state with any degree of certainty what the conditions for face-to-face, on-campus interaction will be by the late summer and fall. Still, we move forward with faith, courage, and humility as we embrace the uncertainty and prepare for a number of ways to carry out our educational mission with the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff as our highest priority. I have confidence that we will achieve our objective of returning to campus if we work together as a University community.

The Path Forward

I have appointed Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Paul Benson, Vice President for Student Development Bill Fischer, and Executive Vice President of Business and Administrative Services Andy Horner as co-chairs of the “UD Path Forward Task Force.” This will be the top priority of the University in the coming weeks, with the effort being guided by the principles articulated in the town halls and linked here.

These executive leaders will work closely with Robin Oldfield, assistant vice president for audit risk and compliance, Dr. Mary Buchwalder, medical director, and a number of working groups that have already been meeting for several weeks to develop plans, protocols, and timelines for safely returning to campus, whether it’s a traditional August start, a gradually staged return, or a hybrid mixture of face- to-face and online learning. The Task Force will also consider athletics, while understanding that we will follow guidance from the NCAA, our medical team, and public health officials about when it’s safe for student-athletes to return to practice and competition. 

Comprised of nearly 100 members from a cross-section of our campus, these groups will make recommendations after extensive study, consultation with campus constituents, and vetting with public health officials:

  • Academics: This working group will develop a range of academic models to be considered and then revised iteratively in planning for the fall term.  It’s chaired by Carolyn Roecker-Phelps, associate provost for faculty and administrative affairs.
  • Student Life: This team will examine move-in protocols, physical distancing measures, and all aspects of student life. It’s co-chaired by Chris Schramm, associate vice president for student development, and Steve Herndon, assistant vice president for student development and executive director of housing and residence life.
  • Protective Measures: This working group will make recommendations on the public health measures that will be necessary during the duration of the pandemic, including protective measures, testing, contact tracing, and quarantining of persons with COVID-19 or those who are at significant risk for infection. It’s chaired by Katherine Cleaver, executive director for environmental health and safety.
  • Infrastructure and Operations: This team will focus on ways to make the campus safe for occupancy, including the infrastructure needed to support a variety of course-delivery methods. It’s co-chaired by Rick Krysiak, vice president for facilities management and planning, and Savalas Kidd, executive director of public safety and chief of police.

In addition, seven “return-to-operations” working groups will recommend and implement plans for research continuity; faculty/staff support; external resource coordination and related recordkeeping; support services; athletics and campus recreation; large gatherings and events; and travel domestically and internationally.

A working group devoted to finance and business, whose work cuts across all these areas, are developing strategies for short- and long-term financial sustainability. The membership and full charges for the various working groups can be found on the Path Forward website.

While details need to be worked out, cornerstones of our approach will include:

  • strategic testing of all members of our community and contact tracing when infection does occur;
  • following the public health guidelines for physical distancing and other health safeguards;
  • creation of effective “households” within subsets of our student residences, connoting the expectation of small groups of students making a mutual commitment to each other’s health and safety; and
  • the development and implementation of creative approaches to the academic calendar, class scheduling, and pedagogy, including the ability to employ various combinations of in-person and online interactions throughout the semester as necessitated by the local state of the pandemic.

It is likely that small “pilots” will be conducted on campus beginning as early as this month that will include small, carefully selected, and well-rationalized programs for which detailed plans will be developed with public health officials. These pilots will allow us to learn about the efficacy of our planned approaches and make adjustments as we move toward a broader re-opening of campus.

Given the uncertainty of the pandemic, we don’t have a precise timeline for final decisions and will need to be prepared to pivot to other approaches at a moment’s notice, but I expect high-level recommendations by late May or early June. This will provide time for broader consultation and discussion across the campus community, further iterative exploration, and ultimately refinement of options and the final plans. All things considered, including the possibility of a shifting national or local health landscape, in July we should have more clarity on our ultimate approach for returning to campus in the fall and keeping the community as healthy as possible.

Safety Measures for Faculty, Staff, and Students

We expect that most faculty and staff who are working remotely will continue to do so throughout the summer, unless they’re necessary for supporting on-campus operations or one of the small pilot programs that will be conducted.

We will work with department chairs and supervisors to put in place new policies for the safe return of faculty, staff, and students. These practices may include physical distancing; limiting the number of people in offices, classrooms, residence halls, and labs at one time; stringent sanitation measures; daily temperature monitoring; the use of masks or other personal protective equipment, and other safety guidelines required by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and public health officials. We are developing a remote working policy that will allow: 1) faculty and staff with health conditions that would put them at high risk from becoming ill with the virus to apply for the opportunity to continue to work at home, if their jobs permit; 2) the creation of less densely populated on-campus workspaces to reduce campus interaction; and 3) the successful management of University operations that can be done completely remotely.

No matter the policies and practices that are specified and agreed to with the public health authorities, the health and safety of all students, faculty, and staff —as well as our ability to remain here on campus — depend upon our mutual commitment to each other, our commitment to community. This mutuality, a true interdependence, will be critical as we all adapt to new expectations, whether in the classroom, in residence halls, or in the student neighborhood.

A Commitment to Transparent Communication

We don’t yet know the answers to all of the difficult questions we’re facing, but I promise that we will continue to be as transparent as possible and adhere to principles of shared governance. We need the wealth of knowledge and creativity across campus as we transform our university for the times. Please send your ideas to

These times of challenge require us to be agile, flexible, humble, empathetic, and open to new ways of teaching, research, scholarship, and community engagement. They will require all of us to continue to make sacrifices for the future of our beloved university.

A Personal Reflection

I’ll close with my heartfelt concern and deep care for our University family.

For those who are laid off and furloughed, for students who lost the full campus experience, for those caring for children and other family members while juggling professional responsibilities, for those in the labs working on improved testing, for the Marianists whose faith has sustained us throughout history, and for all who are ill or afflicted with fear — I see you and hold you in my heart and prayers.

I don’t know what the days ahead hold. As Vice President for Mission and Rector Father Jim Fitz, S.M., reminds us, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” I do know that if we journey together, in solidarity, we will face the future with hope. We will shape our own destiny. The University of Dayton will endure and thrive.

Thank you for the extraordinary ways you have supported our students and the care you’ve shown for each other over the last two months. I pray that you and your loved ones remain healthy. I look forward to the day we can be together again on campus.

Wishing you grace and blessings,

Eric F. Spina


Office of the President

St. Mary's Hall
300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 1624