Moving our campus forward: An update on Project Orange

Dear Colleagues,

As we end spring semester, we want to offer our deepest gratitude for all you have done to adapt to the many challenges we experienced due to the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout the past weeks, your resiliency, creativity and commitment to the University of Utah have been on full display as you moved courses online while also supporting our students and each other in so many ways. Our health care providers and researchers have brought their full expertise to bear on this challenge, in both caring for patients and finding ways to prevent and treat COVID-19. We are humbled by their dedication and professionalism. We also are appreciative of the steps you’ve taken to responsibly manage our financial resources, including enacting a hiring freeze, deferring expenses, and delaying university travel, among other actions. Again, thank you.

We are working closely with the state and the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE)—and following CDC and other federal directives—as we determine next steps for our campus. Senior Vice President Mike Good is a member of the state’s Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission, which means we both have significant input and a medical professional’s guidance informing our state decision process. In addition, we have several representatives—including Lori McDonald, Cathy Anderson, Jason Perry, Martha Bradley-Evans, Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, Brian Watts, Kyle Brennan, Diane Pataki and Marlon Lynch—working with the governor’s team and USHE colleagues to outline high-level guidance on how institutions of higher education can safely provide education, conduct research and engage with communities in the months ahead. We will keep you informed as these groups continue their work.

Our current expectation, and preparation at this time, is that our campus activities—education, research and community engagement—will be operational in fall 2020, likely with some modifications based on public health guidance and our own planning process. We are currently developing several scenarios to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, using the work of the groups highlighted. We believe that by mid-June we will have adequate data and information to provide additional guidance for fall 2020 activities necessary to maintain public health and safety.

A campus-wide working group, led by Chief Human Resource Officer Jeff Herring, is developing guidelines for reopening our campus in a safe and orderly manner. The working group, called Project Orange, is following a widely recognized color-coded—red, orange, yellow, green—phased scheme for the resumption of operations. In this scheme, red indicates that the incidence of COVID-19 in our state requires us to suspend most daily operations and shelter in place, which is our current state.

As rates decline, we would move to orange, followed by a move to the yellow phase with fewer restrictions, where we would hopefully remain until a vaccine or treatment is found, and a final return to normal operations—the green phase. The immediate task of the working group is to develop a plan for operations in the orange phase, which will entail some resumption of business with modifications designed to protect health and safety. We anticipate moving to the orange phase on May 11, which will give campus entities time to review the guidelines and prepare for this next phase. It will begin primarily with research activities, followed by an assessment of public health data before extending significant “return to campus” authorization in other areas of university operations. Please note that in the orange phase, expected to extend into the summer, telecommuting will continue for most of our employees and our students will not be on campus. Once finalized, the Project Orange guidelines will be published at coronavirus.utah.edu.

In addition, Senior Vice President Dan Reed is leading a group planning the details of safe and effective in-person instructional delivery for the fall, working in concert with Project Orange. As part of this, we are drawing lessons from our spring online experience to enhance our summer programs and aid in planning.

This continues to be a very dynamic situation and we will do our best to keep you informed as new developments occur and as we make decisions that affect you.

Under the leadership of Chief Financial Officer Cathy Anderson, we are closely monitoring the financial impact on the university, which is significant. We are fortunate to have a long history of sound financial management and great partnerships with our campus units and our state leadership. We will continue to work together to ensure the long-term vibrancy of the U, recognizing that short-term operational and financial adjustments will be needed.

Protecting our employees, our students and our community partners during this tumultuous time has been and always will be our top priority. We appreciate what you are doing to conserve resources and reduce travel, hiring, and nonessential expenditures. Together, we will manage the current financial issues. We will draw on the One U creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial ethic that has always been the foundation of the University of Utah to navigate the period ahead.

Sincerely,

Ruth Watkins
President

Mike Good
Senior Vice President for Health Sciences

Dan Reed
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs