Presidential Perspective - January 7, 2021
Baylor Students, Faculty, Staff and Parents:
Happy New Year! I trust that your holidays were relaxing and restful as we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The First Gent, Shelby and I spent several days hiking in Big Bend National Park as we explored the beauty and richness of God’s creation. We definitely were able to socially distance among the mountains and cacti!
Before I discuss the semester ahead, I ask our entire university community to stop for a moment and pray for our country during this period of leadership transition. As someone who has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., I witnessed our democracy in action, but what happened yesterday in our nation’s Capitol truly was heartbreaking. We must not forget that we are “One Nation. Under God.” Pray for our leaders – present and future – and for the United States of America during this time of extreme divisiveness.
Preparing for the Spring Semester
We’ve had many teams planning for the start of the spring semester over the past couple of months as our country, state and local community continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Today I want to provide a brief update on several key areas:
- Semester Start Date: We plan to start the spring semester as scheduled, with the first official class day on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
- Pre-semester Testing: A reminder that all students, faculty and staff are required to submit a negative COVID-19 test prior to returning to Waco. The Everlywell test kit ordering deadline for students is this Saturday, Jan. 9, at noon. After this date, students will be unable to order a test kit and need to secure outside testing at their own expense before the start of the semester. These students should submit their outside test results to Health_Services@baylor.edu with their name and Baylor ID number.
- Weekly Testing: All students, faculty and staff will undergo required weekly COVID-19 testing during the semester. Our team of health experts believes this will be the key to unlocking additional normalcy as the semester progresses. Look for additional information in the weeks ahead for this critical initiative, which will begin late January and is in line with the latest recommendations for colleges and universities. Note that we will have several testing locations available across the campus, and the tests will be self-administered.
- Protective Measures: Facemasks and proper social distancing will again be required on campus for the semester. These are important safeguards at this critical stage of the pandemic, as well as to help us reduce the spread of the common flu at the same time. In accordance with new CDC guidance, we have reduced the length of quarantine for exposed individuals from 14 days to 10 days, which aligns with the isolation timeframe.
- Vaccine: Baylor has received 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine to date, which is being distributed in accordance with state guidelines to individuals in the Phase 1A group, which includes our Health Center staff, emergency responders, medical personnel, and School of Nursing faculty, staff and students who work in hospital settings. We are developing plans for Phase 1B, provided we obtain additional doses, which will include people 65 years of age or older or people 16 years of age and older with at least one chronic medical condition that places them at increased risk for severe illness. We will provide additional information as it becomes available.
As the semester nears and campus activity returns, we anticipate a similar situation that we experienced in the fall with a large initial spike in COVID-19 cases. We’ve learned quite a bit about the virus over the past several months, and our Health Management Team and President’s Council are confident in the protection, mitigation and response measures that we have in place for a successful start and completion of the spring semester. We ask for your cooperation and support in keeping our Family First.
To end on a positive note: Provided that our COVID-19 case numbers are low and compliance with health measures has been strong, we are planning to provide students a “wellness day” in which there will be no classes on Tuesday, March 9 (March 10 for the Nursing School).
- Last summer we announced that Baylor would adopt a “test optional” admissions policy for incoming Fall 2021 students as a result of the extreme SAT/ACT testing availability challenges across the nation due to COVID-19. As a result, roughly half of the Fall 2021 incoming class has applied without test scores, and the academic profile is just as talented as years’ past. Unfortunately, the global testing challenges still persist today. To assist prospective students and their families, Baylor will confidently continue the test optional policy for both incoming Fall 2022 and Fall 2023 students and reevaluate for future years. This decision puts Baylor in the best position to provide an equitable application process and enroll academically successful students in higher education’s challenging years ahead.
- We’re asking all members of the Baylor Family to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by participating in this year’s annual MLK Day of Service, sponsored by Baylor’s Office of Community Engagement & Service, on Monday, Jan. 18. This year, we’re asking participants to “serve where they are” virtually in a variety of ways. Information and sign-up information for these opportunities, which will include donations for the One Warm Coat Campaign and a Pet Supply Drive to benefit Waco’s ABC Clinic, will be posted here. Once you register, additional details will be provided in the days ahead.
- Baylor environmental science researchers Rebecca Sheesley, Ph.D., and Sascha Usenko, Ph.D., have been awarded an $890,000 grant by the Department of Energy Atmospheric System Research (ASR) for a fascinating study of the impact of urban pollution on thunderstorm activity in the Houston area. Their work is part of an overarching, multi-institution, multi-agency research project called Tracking Aerosol Convection Interactions Experiment (TRACER). Drs. Sheesley and Usenko will map the atmospheric composition around Houston this summer with the hope to improve understanding of how urban air pollution changes the dynamics of these storms systems that routinely affect the largest city in Texas.
My prayers are for a healthy 2021 – physically, mentally and spiritually – for all of the Baylor Family. I am looking forward to your return to campus.
Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.