Message to faculty and staff about fall 2021 plans

Dear faculty and staff,

As the COVID-19 situation in North Texas remains highly dynamic, our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will meet twice a week and remains vigilant regarding the local impact. As a reminder, some members of the EOC also meet regularly with Dallas County health officials and Dr. Robert Haley, our consulting epidemiologist, to review current trends in the area and on our campus. In addition, every week for the past year, the EOC has used key data points such as the Dallas County infection rate, hospitalizations and cases, along with SMU-specific data such as isolation capacity, cases, and, now, vaccine status reports, to recommend the operational level for the campus. Their recommendations are not made hastily, and we appreciate the hours they have poured into keeping us safe.

You may have heard that some local public school districts are considering temporary mask requirements. Along similar lines, we heard the concerns you expressed at the town hall and in your submitted questions. This was followed by the Faculty Senate’s approval of three resolutions on Tuesday regarding vaccines, masking and air quality. We continue to review air quality and vaccination issues with necessary staff and will make further announcements as soon as possible.

Your safety – that of our faculty, staff and students – is our highest priority. Effective tomorrow, August 12, we will implement a temporary requirement of masks (two or more layers covering the nose and mouth) in indoor spaces on campus, including classrooms, event and meeting spaces, and commons areas in all buildings and residential halls, regardless of vaccination status. We will follow a mask protocol similar to the one we followed earlier this year; for example, masks are not required in private spaces such as inside an office or partitioned cubicle for employees, or inside an individual residence hall room for roommates. 

All events, including Convocation, orientation, campaign kickoff and others, should continue as planned with masks being used indoors. Events held on campus by outside groups and visitors to campus will need to comply with this mask requirement as well. This requirement is a temporary precaution during the delta variant surge to supplement our other pandemic protocols. We will continue to monitor and review industry-specific guidance and recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health authorities in order to make the best decision for our community.

I recently sent this message to students and parents to describe what to expect when they arrive and reinforce our safety messages: the importance of getting vaccinated, sharing if they have received the vaccine and the new masking requirement. This will be followed by more detailed information in our Mustang Strong newsletters as well as outreach by our various units.

At our town hall last week, we were able to answer a few questions, but received many more prior to and during the meeting. As a result, the Mustang Strong website has been updated with dozens of new FAQs to address your questions.

Thanks to those of you who have received the vaccine and for your commitment to the safety of our campus. I encourage anyone who has not been vaccinated to get vaccinated to protect yourself, your loved ones and our community. Also, please let us know by uploading your vaccine card to the Dr. Bob Smith Health Center so you have easy access to it and to help the University estimate vaccination rates on campus.

I appreciate your dedication to our mission. Students are eagerly anticipating SMU’s excellent learning and classroom interactions, as well as our vibrant campus life. You make that possible each and every day, and I am proud to stand alongside you to welcome our students back this fall.


R. Gerald Turner