As you know, this is a very rapidly changing situation, and all of us are learning more each day. Thank you for your understanding and continued efforts to control and limit the spread of COVID-19, while also remaining focused on our mission. In accordance with evolving guidance from The Texas A&M University System, Texas A&M AgriLife provides the following direction regarding business operations:
Effective immediately, we will extend on-site skeleton crew staffing recommendations until May 1. If the situation changes before May 1, the System will rescind or revise limited staff levels. The hope is that by providing blanket guidance for a period of time, supervisors can focus resources on other challenges rather than reacting to changing business operations on a weekly basis.
Remote work and emergency leave
System strongly encourages members to implement temporary alternate work location arrangements (remote work) in accordance with System Regulation 33.06.01 for all employees when possible. This may involve work that is outside the employee’s primary responsibilities. Based on this strong guidance to work from home, managers are empowered to modify employee expectations, and find tasks employees are capable of completing remotely.
If remote work is not possible for employees otherwise able to work but are not able to report to their normal work location, emergency leave is then recommended in accordance with System Regulation 31.03.03, section 2.5.2. This may include employees who are unable to report to their normal work location because of the need to care for dependent children where schools have cancelled classes. Please note, it is preferred that emergency leave be reserved for those who cannot work from home. Emergency leave requests must be approved by the agency director or designee prior to being submitted in Workday. Emergency leave requests in Workday should be entered as “Other Emergencies” with a comment indicating leave due to COVID-19.
Limit on public gatherings
On March 16th, the White House released additional guidelines for social distancing, to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people for the next 15 days for all U.S. events, and ensure appropriate social distancing during any such meetings or gatherings. Many local governments are moving to close restaurants and other businesses and to limit the size of public gatherings. In keeping with this new guidance, please limit any and all meetings or gatherings of faculty, students, staff or others to 10 or fewer people through March 31st. For all meetings of any size, use video or phone conferencing when possible.
As a result of the updated guidance, the university communicated yesterday afternoon the following cancellations/postponements:
- Spring graduation ceremonies will be postponed. The university is planning mail delivery of diplomas to graduates (with normal shipping costs waived) and is also considering opportunities for in-person ceremony options later this summer for those May graduates wishing to do so.
- Final exams will not be taken in person. Online testing and other mechanisms for the assessment of student learning are under consideration in collaboration with college deans and faculty and will be announced in the near future.
- The Association of Former Students announced that Aggie Ring Day scheduled for April has been canceled. Alternate plans were sent to recipients through an email notification. Students will be able to have their ring mailed to them or they can pick it up at the Williams Alumni Center after Texas A&M resumes normal operations.
- Family Weekend in April has been canceled.
- The Campus Muster Committee announced that the campus Muster Ceremony will not be held in its traditional in-person format in Reed Arena. The Muster Committee is working closely with The Association of Former Students to provide guidance to the campus and the entire Aggie Network.
Online Teaching/Exam Options
As was communicated by Vice Provost Michael Stephenson late yesterday, there is not an ideal way to handle course exams. We urge faculty to substitute an assignment that effectively evaluates student learning outcomes for an exam. The Keep Teaching website has added new information that may be useful in identifying alternative and meaningful ways of assessment. The college also has a team of faculty who are experts in online education available via Zoom appointments to provide advice on these types of pedagogical decisions. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected with an expert.
More info: https://aglifesciences.tamu.edu/covid19/.
- No international travel is permitted, through May 31st; this date will be revisited and may be extended.
- No domestic air travel, exclusive of Texas, is permitted unless deemed mission critical, through May 31st; this date will be revisited and may be extended.
- In addition, System discourages travel between TAMUS campuses and locations until further notice.
- Mission critical travel, both domestic and in-state, should be reported through the Office of Ethics & Compliance with final approval by the Agency CEO or designee. Please note, this only relates to travel that is reimbursable by AgriLife or the college, not county Extension agents.
Domestic Travel Guidance:
- Domestic travelers are required only to self-monitor at this time.
- Domestic travelers do NOT need to self-isolate unless feeling ill or in a household with someone ill.
- Guidance for self-monitoring is found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html
International Travel Guidance:
- Given ongoing developments in COVID-19 transmission in recent days, any faculty, staff or students returning from international travel from any country (including cruises) and through any airport, effective immediately, must self-isolate for 14 days before returning to a System campus or work location.
- Guidance for self-isolating is found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html
In addition, CDC now recommends that travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide. Cruise travelers should stay home for 14 days after returning from travel, monitor their health, and practice social distancing.
Please continue to check the CDC website as these recommendations may evolve: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
New Employees and Onbaording
If a unit has a final candidate and is ready to make an offer, communicate your intentions to the candidate and if possible, set a start date on or after May 1. Given the fluidity of the situation, all start dates may have to be adjusted to ensure each person’s safety concerns as well as availability of staff. All recruiting activity currently in process that has not resulted in an offer by Friday, March 20, 2020, should be delayed until further notice.
Performance evaluations will be launched in Workday as scheduled on April 1. Managers are encouraged to conduct performance review meetings using technology rather than face-to-face. Evaluations will be completed on the appropriate form and uploaded into Workday and routed for signatures by manager and employee between April 1 and May 31.
Please continue to follow all guidance from local authorities, state government, the CDC and the White House Coronavirus Task Force regarding all aspects of the response to this pandemic.
Thank you for your continued efforts as we work to control and limit the spread of COVID-19 within our populations and in communities across the state and nation.
Please continue to monitor AgriLife’s Coronavirus resource page for the latest information: https://agrilife.org/coronavirus/. You can also contact the AgriLife Office of Ethics and Compliance with questions at 979-845-4789 or 979-845-7879.
Patrick J. Stover, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor and Dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M AgriLife
Director, Texas A&M AgriLife Research