May 11, 2009


A. Approval of meeting dates 2009-10 (D 7002).

Chair Hillis asked if there were any objections to the proposed schedule of 2009-10 meeting dates presented in D 7002. Since there were none, he called for a voice vote, and the motion was unanimously approved.

B. Cancellation of summer meetings of the Faculty Council (D 7003).

Chair Hillis asked if there were objections to cancelling the Faculty Council’s scheduled summer meetings; no objections were raised so he said this meant the meetings would be cancelled.

C. Update on the H1N1 Flu situation and preparations by the Emergency Management Team.

Vice Provost Terri Givens and Associate Vice President Gerald R. (Bob) Harkins (Campus Safety and Security) gave a joint update on how the University was handling the H1N1 flu situation. Associate Vice President Harkins reported that efforts to monitor the flu outbreak were initiated on April 23 with regular briefings being provided to President Powers and the University’s senior leadership. He said when cases began appearing in Texas, the investigation by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services “caused some very draconian measures to be taken,” involving several school closures. He said the University sought to find a conservative approach that would allow classes and final exams to continue on schedule and that would not cause widespread disruption.

Vice President Harkins said the University was fortunate to have only five suspected cases, two of which involved students who had recently traveled where identification of contacts and initiation of immediate preventive treatments were required. He reported that a positive behavioral and educational approach was emphasized across campus because a vaccine for H1N1 was not available. Since the number of cases seemed to be diminishing and the severity of the disease here in the U.S. never approached that experienced in Mexico, he thought studies were underway to determine why these differences had occurred even though seasonal variation had been expected. He said there was concern regarding the incidence of cases in the southern hemisphere as the fall and winter seasons begin there. Because groups from the University have near term travel planned to countries located in the southern hemisphere, the situation is also being closely observed.

Associate Vice President Harkins emphasized the need for individuals to understand that the classification of a pandemic by the World Health Organization depends on the geographical dispersion of a disease rather than its severity. He said there is an expectation that the H1N1 flu will occur in waves that could possibly strengthen, as occurred in 1918; however, health professionals are hopeful that increased vaccine support will be forthcoming from the federal government. He said that in the meantime, there was an adequate supply of Tamiflu available to handle immediate cases and the preventive needs of first responders. He pointed out that there is an update regarding H1N1 developments posted on the University’s Emergency Information web page for sharing information and reporting situational changes. The web page’s information addresses questions employees might have regarding travel restrictions and other flu-related developments and can be accessed at the following URL: http://www.utexas.edu/emergency/.

Vice Provost Givens complimented Vice President Harkins and the other team members for their success in monitoring and managing a situation where over-reaction could have easily developed and for providing a model approach that she thought had been borrowed by other entities across the state. She reported that the H1N1 situation had impacted the University’s study abroad programs. She said one upcoming Maymester opportunity was in the process of being relocated from Akumal, Mexico, to Puerto Rico in order to minimize risk to the participants; she said the study abroad and natural sciences staff had ably handled the logistics involved with relocating the program. In addition, Vice Provost Givens said two programs—one in natural and health sciences and the other in nursing—that were to be offered this summer in Guadalajara had been cancelled because medical staff members thought it unwise to place students at health delivery sites. She said there was a plan underway to provide opportunities for these students to study Spanish this summer since the programs had to be cancelled.

She reported that the provost’s establishment of an international oversight committee just prior to the H1N1 outbreak had been especially timely and helpful in the current situation. This committee includes representatives from the president’s office, legal affairs, Campus Safety And Security, and other offices across campus and is designed to facilitate a high level administrative response when international situations develop or when there are requests for exemptions from existing travel restrictions. The c8ommittee has been working with the Emergency Management Team to develop guidelines for travel based on ones already available from the CDC and other institutions. She said the initial travel restrictions to Mexico were in effect through May 22, and a review was underway as to whether these restrictions should be extended or ended. There have been several requests for exemptions with some approvals being granted, depending on the situations involved. However, she said wording for the travel management page was being developed to make sure all those planning international trips were aware that they could be subject to quarantine should H1N1 cases continue to spread. She said the situation in China, where quarantines have been imposed, is being monitored closely to determine what should be done regarding a Maymester program scheduled to begin in Beijing later this month.

Vice Provost Givens said she wanted to emphasize that close monitoring was the watchword, and she would be involved in this work until she leaves her post in the provost’s office this August. She said there was heightened awareness that extensive contingency planning was needed to assure adequate preparedness, especially in situations where closing the University or rescheduling final exams might be necessary. She said alternatives need to be explored, such as providing web-based classes, and she expected that incoming Vice Provost Gretchen Ritter would be working on the development of such contingency plans. Vice Provost Givens closed her remarks by inviting anyone who had specific questions or suggestions to contact her or one the other members of the emergency management team.

Chair Hillis pointed out that increasing the knowledge base and devising effective treatments for diseases associated with evolving pathogens, such as influenza viruses, were important practical applications of the field of evolutionary biology. He said this was why scientists were emphasizing the critical need to include instruction about evolutionary biology in high schools in their testimony before the State Board of Education.

Chair Hillis called attention to the announcements listed on the agenda regarding standing committee appointments and reports as well as the joint meeting with the Texas A&M Senate scheduled for March 1, 2010.

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