President's Message: A Fall Semester Like No Other

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

As we launch the new academic year, I’m delighted to welcome new and returning students to our Fall Semester 2020. We’ve missed you. Our campus was excruciatingly quiet without you. 

It has been more than five months since COVID-19 forced us to send home the vast majority of our students to learn remotely, along with thousands of faculty and staff to teach and work from home. To open our 2020-21 school year, we have chosen the path that we believe is best suited to keep UC’s students, both new and returning, on track to achieve their educational aspirations, while safeguarding the health of all members of our campus community. 

For a general review of all our plans, please see our Return to Campus Guide. It is inspired by our responsibility to fulfill UC’s mission and is routinely updated. To the many members of our campus community who have planned carefully for today’s first day of classes and continue to work hard under the demands of this unusual time: Thank you! The strong leadership and commitment to excellence demonstrated by our deans, vice presidents, faculty and staff have truly made an immense and positive impact. 

Be COVID careful

Clearly, the opening of our new school year is unlike any other in our 201-year history. Our motto “Strength in Unity” takes on added meaning with health and safety a top priority. We must all unite to protect one another—we call it being “COVID Careful.” Please keep that top of mind. I ask each and every one of us to take personal responsibility for safeguarding ourselves and one another. This means participating in testing and tracing as necessary, wearing facial coverings when not alone in our offices or residences (except when eating or drinking); doing our part in sanitizing our classrooms and workspaces; washing hands properly and often; maintaining a distance of six feet between us; performing the self-administered wellness check before leaving our residences; and staying home when we are sick. 

Enrollment upate

Amid these challenging times, the great news is that our projected opening enrollment—over 46,400 strong—sets another enrollment high, our eighth consecutive year with a record-breaking number. Over the summer, our enrollment—all online—proved to be the highest in the history of summer term. To our 350 international students who faced obstacles in getting here from overseas, I want you to know that we are glad you have joined our community, and wish you rich and rewarding experiences as Bearcats.

Creating virtual community

With large, in-person gatherings still prohibited, building connections and community are taking new form as virtual events. Notable among the upcoming virtual programs is a new AFFIRM Community—creating space weekly for students who hold marginalized identities to engage in programming centered on leadership development, advocacy, mental health, academic success, service and engagement. Taking advantage of the virtual realm means that our Student Organizations Fair, even though it was held during Welcome Week, remains available for students to participate at any time they feel ready to become active in a club or extracurricular activity. Among the other key events we have planned online are our Student Impact Symposium on Oct. 20 and Student Leadership Conference on Oct. 24.

Signs of the times

On campus itself, you’ll find evidence of our efforts to create a safer environment:

  • More than 67,000 signs and 250 A-frame signs displayed throughout the university remind us all to be “COVID Careful.” 
  • Thus far, 1500 no-touch and 200 push-button sanitizing stations have been installed.
  • More than 6,400 gallons of hand sanitizer have been placed around campus. 
  • Over 3,200 gallons of disinfectant, combined with nearly 4,400 cases of paper towels, were recently purchased for cleaning purposes. 
  • In locations spanning from the UC Bookstore to large non-suite restrooms in residence halls, more than 376 sheets of Plexiglass are being converted into an estimated 1,500 shields to act as barriers to spreading the virus.

Preparing for potential challenges

While the pandemic hit and humbled us, along with billions of people around the world, I believe our university’s Next Lives Here mindset has served us well to cope with the new reality. I am deeply grateful to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine for his commitment to prioritizing higher education in state financial decisions. Without his support, our budget situation would be far worse. As we look to the current fiscal year, we are cognizant that we may face additional financial challenges, depending on the trajectories of the economy and the pandemic. 

Personal ownership in racial justice

Clearly, 2020 has become a defining period—shaped by a pandemic, economic hardship and calls for racial justice, akin to the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, the Great Depression and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s all rolled into one brief span. While we jointly protect one another from the virus, each of us must also take ownership and stand up to eliminate racism and social injustice, to recognize and mitigate any biases we may have, and to hold each other accountable for creating an inclusive community. I am looking forward to partnering with campus stakeholders to move our university forward on our arc toward equity and justice.

There is an adage that instructs: “Do things for people—not because of who they may be or what they do in return. But because of who you are.” And who are we? We’re Bearcats! I urge all of us to act with common decency and to actively live out our belief in treating everyone with understanding, respect and empathy—not just now, but always. 

Please have a great—and safe—new school year.

Seek the highest,

Neville G. Pinto

P.S. Remember this: When we’re out, masks on!