30 June 2020

CUHK Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Rocky S. Tuan and Provost Professor Alan K.L. Chan's Open Letter



Dear Students and Colleagues,

A Safe and Orderly Return to Campus

We write at a time when things are returning to something resembling normality in Hong Kong, while other parts of the world are still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Without letting our guard down or being overly optimistic, we would like to bring to your attention how we propose to start the new semester in the fall of 2020.

While the decision to move to online classes and home office on the first appearance of the COVID-19 threats in January needed to be swift and bold, that to re-open the campus and resume in-person teaching and activities must be cautious and thoroughly deliberated.  At the first threats of the novel coronavirus, the Emergency Response Group was formed, led by the Vice-Chancellor and President and staffed by members of senior management and relevant heads of the professional and administrative services units.  The Group has been meeting regularly and frequently to keep abreast of local and overseas developments and to deliberate on infection control and academic and work arrangements, always informed and advised by the Committee on Health Promotion and Protection (CHPP).  The Group also consulted and conferred with members of the Colleges, Faculties, other units and outside parties and experts to arrive at decisions and take necessary actions in the face of fast-changing challenges.

What will the Fall Term look like?

We are pleased to state that we now feel confident in commencing the Fall Term of 2020–21 on 7 September as originally scheduled.  That said, the health and well-being of our campus population must remain our top priority and every effort will be made to ensure that our campus is free from infection while pursuing our educational objectives and goals.  If there is one overarching rule that should inform all our academic and non-academic undertakings, it is physical distancing.  Needless to say, physical distancing will be enforced in all places and at all times to prevent infection and implement containment if the intractable virus should find its way into our campus.

With this in mind, we have conducted various simulations and estimated that we should be able to accommodate face-to-face teaching for more than 80% of the classes scheduled for the Fall Term, provided the timetable is stretched and classrooms fully utilized.  This may inconvenience some students and faculty, and understanding and patience will be much appreciated.

However, the need to avoid large gatherings and to cater for unforeseen emergencies means that online teaching and learning will still be a part of the “new normal”.  There should be minimal cause for concern, as our students, faculty and staff, especially given the experience of the last school term, are now adept in making full use of technology in achieving the desired learning or work-related outcomes.  We believe that, with the enhancement in WiFi connectivity and IT capabilities, online teaching and learning will only get better and better.  Depending on the pedagogical needs of individual courses, a hybrid mode of online and in-person teaching will be the new norm, and very few of us will experience that sense of unwieldiness as we did a few months ago.  You will hear more on the specifics of class scheduling and related arrangements from the Provost, the Registry and/or individual Departments/Divisions in the days to come. 

What are the key infection control measures on campus?

A safe campus is a prerequisite to the success of the new term.  Various precautionary measures have been or will be implemented to ensure that students will be able to pursue their studies and staff to carry out their work on campus as safely and effectively as possible, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Face masks have to be worn at all times on campus, particularly on school buses and in indoor areas.
  2. There will be body temperature checkpoints at key University venues, together with supplies of hand sanitizers and face mask vending machines.
  3. Cleaning and sanitizing regimes will be instituted in common areas, including classrooms, libraries, and sports grounds, and in facilities such as elevators and buses. 
  4. There will be protocols of entry to and exit from classrooms and laboratories as well as of seating arrangement (at least 1.5 m apart, all facing one direction and alternate seating) to effect the optimal level of physical distancing in both lectures and tutorials.
  5. The medical team at the University Health Service will take care of the sick and facilitate virus testing in suspected cases or for those that come in close contact therewith.

What is the arrangement for student residents?

The University and all nine Colleges are making every effort to facilitate new and returning non-local students to fulfil the compulsory home quarantine requirements, if applicable, before the Fall Term starts on 7 September.  Students will be arranged to arrive on campus in a staggered manner starting from as early as mid-July.  Such an arrangement naturally presents considerable practical challenges.  Individual Colleges and hostels will exercise their specific arrangements to balance the inauguration of residential life with compliance of public health regulations in terms of self-isolation or compulsory home quarantine.  It is therefore important that residents pay close attention to the specific timeframes and logistics of individual Colleges and hostels and, in the case of those coming from abroad, plan their itineraries carefully.  For those who arrive late for the beginning of the term due to reasons beyond their control, we will also make alternative arrangements to keep the disruption to their studies and campus life to a minimum.

For local student residents, we expect that you can check-in on 5 September as long as the coronavirus pandemic remains under control.  However, the physical settings, operations and activities in hostels will be adjusted to comply with the infection control and social distancing guidelines.  We will also need to set aside contingency residential space to accommodate a possible resurgence of infections in Hong Kong.  We hope that all members will continue to demonstrate flexibility and patience, as well as a collaborative community spirit during this uncertain time.

Brace for the New Normal

Physical distancing also means that many events, gatherings and co-curricular activities have to be scaled down or closely regulated from the public health angle.  A task force under the Emergency Response Group has issued the “Referencing Guidelines for Social and Non-academic Events during COVID-19” to provide guidance on the planning and operation of on-campus events.  The guidelines will be updated and kept commensurate with the current public health measures and regulations.  We will also continue to implement access control into the University for better crowd management and contact tracing should it become necessary.

With all the necessary measures in place, we are confident that CUHK is turning a new leaf in its annals in a thoughtful and orderly manner.  Credits must go to our students, staff, alumni and donors who have not only been doing their parts most diligently, but also going beyond the call of duty in many instances to help the University as a whole to navigate this challenging time.  No words can adequately describe our gratitude to these dedicated members of the CUHK family.  We are particularly heartened by the enthusiastic responses to the CU RElief (CURE) Fund which has already raised funds to make available employment opportunities for over 300 of our graduates.  It is this spirit of solidarity and looking out for each other that gives us the confidence that we can ride out the pandemic challenge together. 

While the world eagerly awaits the development of a vaccine targeted against SARS-Cov-2 and effective treatments for COVID-19, CUHK will remain vigilant on all fronts to safeguard the well-being of all members of the CUHK community.  The Emergency Response Group will continue to execute its responsibilities dutifully to meet current and future challenges related to COVID-19.  We will keep monitoring and assessing the situation and keep you posted in an expedient and timely manner.

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