DATE: June 3, 2020 at 5 pm
TO: Faculty and Staff

FROM: Dr. Richard Nelson, President

Dear Colleagues,

Here we are, into our 10th week since closing our campus to the public. Much has changed in how we do our work, but not why we do it. Thank you all for staying focused on delivering great services, for putting students at the center of everything you do, and for keeping yourselves safe and well.

From what I’m hearing (and not hearing), we are doing very well in comparison to many, many other institutions across the country. Higher ed watchers are more than a little pessimistic about the future for colleges that were already under financial stress, that depend heavily on front-loaded tuition and fee payments for day-to-day operations and cash flow, or who are paralyzed by rigid systems and practices, even in the face of a compelling reasons to change. Happily, none of these apply to Nicolet.

Though the number of COVID-19 cases in our district remains relatively low, it has crept up over the past couple of weeks. Given the huge influx of people we saw in our region over the Memorial Day weekend, health professionals warn that the risk and frequency of community transmission may go up in the coming weeks. Vigilance in protecting ourselves and our Northwoods communities is as important as ever.

Although we aren’t about to let our guard down, there are bits of good news too. Preliminary research suggests that transmission by touching previously contaminated surfaces may be a little less common than originally thought, and there are some very early hints that that the virus could be mutating into a somewhat less virulent form. Only time and good science will tell. In addition, researchers are in various stages of testing at least three dozen pharmaceuticals with bona fide potential for use as safe and effective treatments or vaccines.

What about Nicolet? What should we expect over the coming weeks and months?  For now we’ll continue to observe the best science and evidence-based recommendations available. Absent a state-wide plan, Nicolet is following the “Onward Oneida County Reopening Guidance & Metrics” and adapting it to our circumstances and priorities.

Like many jurisdictions, Onward Oneida is based on a phased approach to reopening. We believe that makes sense for Nicolet and are working on a visual representation of such a plan that will look something like this when finished:

draft of covid reopening plan


ELT will review and discuss this draft next Monday, then seek additional feedback. When complete, each cell in the infographic will be accompanied by additional explanatory detail. Because the situation is fluid and our situation can (and probably will) change quickly and without warning, dates will be provided only as targets or guidelines, not cast-in-bronze commitments.

As many of you know, we have started very limited F2F instruction where it has been deemed essential (certain health occupations and public safety programs) and where we can assure adherence to accepted best practices for minimizing COVID-19 exposure. Requests for additional on-campus instruction will be individually evaluated based on evidence that the service is essential and that no viable alternative is available. As a rule, however, students will not come to campus and sit in classrooms, at least through the fall semester.

Accordingly, our Deans and Directors are making plans under the assumption that all instruction and student services that can be delivered remotely will be delivered remotely. Fortunately, we have a wealth of talented people – experienced online instructors, talented instructional designers, and a solutions-focused IT team – who are ready and willing to help turn creative thinking into practice. And if cost is a concern, we have may have funds available to cover unbudgeted expenses incurred in response to COVID-19. 

Simultaneously, we are preparing plans and working through scenarios so employees who need to be on campus in order to do some or all or some of their work are able to return. Considerations include workstation spacing, staggered scheduling, elevated cleaning and sanitizing, and assuring an ample inventory of PPE. However, like instruction, the default expectation is that remote work will continue wherever possible, at least through the end of the calendar year.

Our return to work framework will be distributed to all employees as soon as possible, I hope before the middle of this month. Shortly thereafter, we will schedule a virtual “town hall” meeting (details to come) for everyone who wants to learn more or who has questions not addressed in the plan itself. In the meantime, you are invited to direct questions, ideas, and concerns to your supervisor, to me, or to any ELT member.

Ten weeks ago, we resolved to continue delivering high quality/high value programs and services to our students, to make decisions with safety as our top priority, and to do everything we can to preserve jobs. These are still our guiding principles, and with your continued commitment to the Nicolet mission and your part in making it real, we’ll beat the pandemic and come out stronger as a result.

Keep safe. Stay informed. Be kind.