June 19, 2020
Re: Research Relaunch Plan
To: Faculty, students and staff
June 19, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
Research is a central component of the University of California’s mission. Thus, UC Merced administrators, faculty and staff have been working together on a plan to restart on-campus research as soon as possible. Last week we announced preliminary plans for instruction this fall as well as students’ return to a campus residential experience, and today we announce principles and plans for a resumption of on-campus research in our labs, offices and other spaces, on July 1.
Our phased return to a robust research agenda — which has been developed in consultation with the Senate Committee on Research and vetted by the Merced County Department of Public Health — is guided by three principles:
- We will follow local, state and national public health authority, campus and UC System directives for maintaining COVID-19 risk reduction strategies that include physical distancing, face covering and disease surveillance.
- We will protect the mental and physical health and safety of the entire research workforce, including faculty, clinical patients and human research subjects.
- We will ramp up research activities in such a way as to mitigate faculty, employees’ and students’ risks of contracting COVID-19, in compliance with public health, UC System and campus guidelines.
Guided by these three principles, and the need to integrate research related COVID-19 mitigation strategies with those of the UC Merced campus at large, it was necessary to delay the research relaunch until July 1 to ensure that we have sufficient COVID-19 testing , contact tracing and disease surveillance processes in place prior to bringing additional researchers to campus (beyond previously approved essential research personnel).
The process for requesting to resume on-campus research activities will be as follows:
- Submitting an operational plan: Before resuming research activities that have previously been suspended, researchers will submit operational plans for each independent research program. Researchers can find guidance on how what to write in their operational plan here (a template can be found on page 29).
- Approval of plan: Researchers will submit the plans to the appropriate department chair or program director for provisional written approval. The plan will then be forwarded to the school dean (or dean’s designee), and finally to the vice chancellor for research and executive vice chancellor/provost for final written approvals. Approval from Environmental Health and Safety may also be required depending on the nature of the research. If more than one dean/school is involved, consultation and approval should be sought from each unit. If there are changes to operational plans (for example, changes that impact operations, personnel, and density), researchers must resubmit through this same process. Appeals of negative decisions will be handled in an escalating process.
- Research resumes, with monitoring: Once plans are approved, department chairs, deans, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, and Environmental Health and Safety personnel will all have access to operational plans. The burden for compliance with research ramp-up operational plans is on principle investigators (PI). The Office of Research and Economic Development staff will conduct spot checks, making sure that appropriate density, distancing and protective measures are being followed in all spaces. Maximum occupational densities will be posted in each research space in each building. These will be based on large common areas in a laboratory and not include associated anterooms. Departmental and division leadership should also monitor compliance.
Possible future ramp-downs: Positive tests for COVID-19 or new directives from health officials may require another ramp down of research in some labs or buildings, or a section of campus, as determined by the Emergency Operations Center.
In the event of a ramp-down phase, authority on research activities returns to the vice chancellor for research.
Approved operational plans will be accessible to department chairs, deans, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, and Environmental Health and Safety personnel. In the event of a subsequent ramp-down phase, due to campus conditions or directives by health officials, authority on research activities returns to the vice chancellor for research.
Positive tests for COVID-19 may require ramp down of research in some labs or buildings, or a section of campus as determined by the Emergency Operations Center.
Noncompliance: The campus policy for mitigating risk specifies what is required for all people working on campus properties
Complaints regarding non-compliance may be submitted to UC Merced Emergency Management at firstname.lastname@example.org. Non-compliance with existing safety policies and principles could lead to the shutdown of on-campus research in the noncompliant lab or research space. Noncompliance could also result in discipline under applicable University of California or UC Merced policies.
Communications about research: Campus communications — including the scheduled building-by-building reopening of research facilities — will be distributed by email and on UCM’s Emergency Preparedness coronavirus website. Research guidelines will be updated as necessary as we learn from our experiences during the initial ramp-up phases.
Timeline: Researchers may begin the process of writing their operational plans for approval now, and this process will remain in effect for the foreseeable future
Research is at the core of UC Merced’s mission. As we continue to build the future through intellectual discoveries that can transform our planet, right from the heart of California, together we will do so with the health and safety of our campus community as our highest priority.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
Remarks and Addresses