Transition to minimal operation, preparation for the closure of the buildings (status: 19.03.2020 14:30)

You have surely all followed the news and the public discussion on COVID-19 and you have all been made aware of the changes we have had to make at the university as a result of the pandemic –  up to limitations on our committee work. 

You can see the full list of restrictions at https://www.uni-koblenz-landau.de/de/einschraenkungen (in german only)

This is a unique situation for all of us. Each of us are personally, and as an institution, tasked with slowing the outbreak of this virus as much as possible in order to protect everyone (especially those with pre-existing conditions) and not overwhelming our healthcare system. As Chancellor Merkel said, “This is serious. Take it seriously.”

Limited Operations 

What does this mean for the University of Koblenz-Landau? We have used the last few days to work out an emergency plan for the different areas and to begin gradually reducing operations within the university. This includes:

  • The cancellation of all classes and exams that cannot be conducted online. For this reason, we have essentially sent you our students home with the hope that you can continue working from there. We understand the difficulty of this, especially because that means limited access to the library. We know that some of you will also face additional setbacks, such as practical trainings (e.g. in our laboratories, in schools or in companies) that will be canceled or exams that will need to be rescheduled, and all of the uncertainty that may bring. However, it is of the utmost importance to us that your education does not suffer as a result of this situation. This is something we will have to work on together, and we will need to design a fitting approach to courses and research for a respective start of the summer term (see below).
  • The identification of core administrative services and how they can be conducted remotely. This will allow us to ensure the functionality of the university. This includes extending certain contracts and maintaining financial responsibilities.
    • Before the corona crisis, we were already working to extend the contracts based on the university pact (Hochschulpakt) which are about to expire. We will now work to implement this as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the case of a state-wide curfew, we will resort to unconventional means if necessary to deliver/sign the extension of these contracts.
    • We are working to establish a procedure for handling expenses due to non-refundable event cancellation costs. Please understand, though, that we first have to ensure our university Department 4 (Finances) is able to work before we can consider such a procedure – even the best procedure is of little use if it cannot be implemented.
  • The support of all activities in a digital format. We are working (partially in cooperation with other universities) to expand bandwidth, VPN capacity, electronic media licenses, etc.

In the Coming Weeks

Please work under the assumption that the university will cease all in-person interactions and resort to limited operations. Possible scenarios include:

  • The transition of all activities to remote/online contexts, building closures, and limitation of on-site access to individuals responsible for maintenance (such as critical areas of administration, building and security services, etc). Several universities, including TU Kaiserslautern, TU Munich, the University of Munich, and Osnabrück University, have already decided to do this. Should we do the same, it would be our decision who would be allowed on campus.
  • An official closure as directed by state authorities. In this situation, the campus would be completely prohibited except for a very select group of individuals.
  • An indirect closure as a result of a curfew.

Everyone who can work from home is now being asked to do so. Please avoid leaving home for work, not only for your own protection, but also for the protection of the University of Koblenz-Landau’s ability to continue functioning. If someone gets infected with COVID-19 while working on campus, the entire department will have to be quarantined. If you work remotely, the possibility of such a scenario is greatly reduced.

What will come to a standstill regardless of our decisions will be new hires, job announcements, promotions, etc. Pending professorships may be conducted via Skype or video conference; however, whether these will be successful or overwhelmed by the situation remains to be seen. For appointments that are currently in the pipeline, we have recommended that the deans take urgent action and, if necessary, secure them informally by email. The deans have also been informed on how to handle interim evaluation procedures for Junior Professorships.

Committee Work

All of these measures have been taken without consultation of the senate or other committees. Even as university management, we had very little say. The measures had to be taken. At best, we could only intervene to set up an emergency plan in the meantime.

As we stated in our email on March 18th, the university committees have ceased. Together with the Ministry and other universities, we are working to determine how emergency committees can be set up. Parliament is also giving us examples at the moment. The need for committee work will be lower in the coming weeks and months. We are already seeing other institutions converting to emergency operations with amended rules. Since the state parliament of Rhineland-Palatinate has not met this week except for emergency legislation, political actions/decisions may be delayed. It is not clear at this time whether or not the new law on higher education (Hochschulreform), and subsequently the law on the structural reform of higher education in Rhineland-Palatinate (Hochschulstrukturgesetz), will move forward as planned. Also, the procedure for the agreement of objectives (Zielvereinbarung) will not be maintained in its previous form. Furthermore, it should be clear that we only need to make decisions where we can actually implement them or where we are forced from outside to make them. Everything else will be dealt with at a later time once we return to a more normal operating situation.

Immediate Impacts

Please – as already explained to the deans on Monday – work under the assumption that the upcoming Summer semester (currently scheduled to begin April 20, 2020) will not be a conventional term. We do not yet know if courses will need to be conducted online or if the first week of classes will be further delayed. Ultimately, it is not our decision but that of the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK). However, a later start date to the Summer term is not out of the question.

We will have a lot of work ahead of us. Resuming normal university operations will be far more difficult than reducing operations during the corona crisis. I hope we can do this step-by-step, just as we have with the current shutdown; otherwise, we will have an even harder time to avoid chaos. To resume normal operations, not only will we need to bring work processes back to normal, but we will also need to establish rules to avoid any educational disadvantages for the students:

  • Handling and offering exams that did not take place in the Winter semester
  • Handling requirements that could not be met due to external factors (for example, school internships)
  • Designing a Summer semester that has to be largely online, which does not only mean designing new course formats but also reorganizing the study program as not everything can be offered digitally. In such cases, those courses should be postponed until the Winter semester.
  • Handling the orderly violation of formal regulations (for example, violations of deadlines for retaking exams as a result of cancellations)
  • Handling admissions and registrations in spite of failed or late school-leaving exams 
  • And many more 

Take Home Message – Recommended Actions

  • Work from home regardless of which scenario we are faced with.
  • We will know by Sunday which closing scenario we will face and will be able to provide you with more concrete details at that time. We will try to have the campuses open on Monday so that you can retrieve any work materials you may need.
  • More details regarding working remotely, updated processes, and the current state of affairs will be coming out over the next few weeks.

I would like to extend my warmest thanks to each of you for helping us to limit the amount of activity on our campuses and by doing so also helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We have received a lot of questions and feedback from many of you. Although we are unable to answer each of you individually or immediately, please do not stop to contact us with your concerns: Keep sending us your questions. This is the only way we will know in which areas we can still improve. This is an unprecedented situation that we were not prepared for, and we need your help!