April 17: Acting and Deciding in Uncertain Times

A column by UF President Kent Fuchs in The Independent Florida Alligator discussing planning and decision-making for the fall semester.

When facing a crisis, I suspect I have the same feelings and reactions as many others. I want to fix the problem and make decisions so I can plan ahead. 

What’s been so difficult about the ongoing pandemic is that its global and local uncertainties have largely prevented me from following my instincts. I’ve had to learn to make decisions that need to be made each day and then to plan for a variety of future scenarios. My inability to know and control the future is frustrating, but I know it must not stop me from acting on what must be done and decided each day.

With only two weeks left in the Spring semester, students and everyone in our university community are eager for information on what’s ahead. We have clarity about much of the Summer, but for the Fall we do not yet know how we will implement teaching, research, clinical and extension activity or even how we will enjoy our Gator football games.

Hundreds of talented individuals across the university are working to plan and prepare the campus for a variety of possible scenarios. They are working to both model and control the future.

I am optimistic that by the end of summer, there will be multiple breakthroughs in testing for the virus and antibodies, as well as advances in contact tracing. I’m also hopeful that supply-chain challenges will have been resolved.  I expect that during the summer, many of our faculty will return to their offices, libraries and laboratories, and our employees will gradually resume their normal work routines across the university.  

We expect that valuable information and breakthroughs will emerge in the month of May, enabling us to make important decisions in June and July about the Fall semester. We have a significant advantage over many universities with the presence of UF Health and our exceptional academic health center that are treating patients and conducting research. The Emerging Pathogens Institute is a national asset as its faculty model the pandemic and provides the insight necessary for therapies and vaccines.

As we learn more, we will coordinate closely with the State University System leadership and our elected leaders in determining the next steps. I anticipate we will announce a course of action for the Fall no later than July 15, and by then we will have clarity about major events such as August graduation ceremonies. 

I know many students are facing financial hardships due to the loss of jobs or other impacts of COVID-19 on them or their families. We learned last week the very good news that the federal government will provide $15.5 million to UF for direct aid to affected students. We are determining how to distribute these funds, with more information set to become available soon. This is in addition to the $1.8 million in emergency aid provided to students by donors and university relocations.

Finally, our work goes on. More will be accomplished at our university in the next two weeks than at any other time of the entire year. 

Thousands of papers, projects and exams will be completed, despite students and faculty abruptly having to transition to all-online classes last month. It will be a time of great stress, but also great joy, as students finish their classes and nearly 10,000 students earn their UF degrees.

I pray that all our students, faculty and staff will have the stamina and clarity to finish strong — and the continued resilience and optimism to succeed in the times ahead. 

Whether you are graduating, remaining at UF or moving on to new opportunities, I wish you the best for the summer and beyond. I very much look forward to seeing you when we meet again.