Jan. 5, 2024

Dear Colleagues, 

On Monday, faculty and staff will begin to return to UNLV’s campus – many for the first time in almost a month. 

The process of recovery from last month’s tragedy is unique for everyone at UNLV. But one thing I’ve learned from my interactions, and from the stories I’ve heard from colleagues and students, is that our university community rallies around one another when faced with adversity. We are resilient and, by working together, I am confident that we will emerge as a stronger university. 

I know there are many feelings surrounding the start of the spring semester on Jan. 16. Throughout the spring, restoration of safety and empowerment will guide our continuing work.

Rebel Recovery Program

Based on research and discussions with other university presidents who have experienced similar tragedies, I have developed a campuswide Rebel Recovery Program in collaboration with university leaders that we’ll begin to roll out this month. The effort will be ongoing and will continually evolve. Look for more details beginning early next week on the UNLV Strong website

Over the last few weeks, there have been many suggestions on ways to enhance safety and security, promote wellness and camaraderie, and engage our faculty, staff, and students to help our community recover. That’s why we want to include as many people as possible in the Rebel Recovery effort, either through participation in events and surveys, assisting with committee work, and/or taking advantage of counseling and mental health programs. 

Rebel Recovery will include continued and consistent communication, events, and activities that give our faculty, staff, and students a voice in the process. This includes events like our All Hands Meeting on Jan. 9, the upcoming president’s mental health town hall in late February, and additional student and employee-focused meetings related to safety, security, and available support services. 

Working with mental health and counseling staff on campus and in the community, it’s our goal to provide a variety of wellness services, events, and training opportunities throughout the spring. This will include pop-up mental health events, enhanced drop-in and group-based trauma therapy sessions, and training opportunities for employees and supervisors. This is in addition to services typically offered. 

A large part of our recovery effort includes examining our physical safety and security. That’s why I’m establishing a Committee on Campus Security and Safety, consisting of more than a dozen faculty, staff, students, and administrators. This committee will review existing security measures and protocols at all of our campuses and identify potential enhancements to processes, infrastructure, and systems. Simultaneously, members of my senior leadership team are meeting regularly to ensure campus repairs, immediate safety enhancements, and campus space utilization efforts continue as quickly as possible. They’ll also process feedback from the Committee on Campus Security and Safety, and from faculty, staff, and student groups. 

Our road to recovery won’t be completed overnight, but it will be focused, inclusive, compassionate, and driven by the notion that the safety, security, and well-being of the UNLV family – our employees and students – are our priority. 

Beam Hall Operations Update

Even though we continue to make progress on building repairs in Beam Hall, we also understand the intense emotional trauma that exists for our colleagues who work in the building, and for students still recovering from the impact of the Dec. 6 tragedy and its aftermath. So in consultation with faculty, staff, and leadership in the Lee Business School and College of Liberal Arts, and with our Facilities and Business Affairs teams, Provost Heavey and I have made the decision to keep Beam Hall closed to the public for the spring semester. 

All classes previously scheduled for Beam Hall this spring have been reassigned to other classrooms on campus or to remote instruction. Faculty and staff will have the option of working in their offices, working remotely, or using hoteling spaces in other buildings but Beam Hall will remain locked and accessible only to occupants and their personal guests for the semester.  Other services and programming typically in Beam Hall will be relocated for the semester.

I’m incredibly thankful to our deans, and our staff and faculty in the building for your feedback, your compassion for your colleagues and students, and for your patience and understanding as we navigate these unprecedented circumstances. The provost and unit deans will share additional operational details with impacted faculty and staff soon. 

Planning a Permanent Campus Memorial

In the days following the Dec. 6 tragedy, countless community members, colleagues, students and supporters created impromptu memorials for Dr. Chang, Dr. Navarro Velez, and Dr. Takemaru near our main entrance on Maryland Parkway and on the Alumni Amphitheatre. These incredibly thoughtful spaces offered a chance for many to share tokens of remembrance, well wishes, and beautiful floral displays. 

With inclement weather earlier this week, and freezing overnight temperatures, wind, and additional rain expected in the near future with the onset of the winter season, we’ve consulted with Faculty Senate leadership, deans, and with our UNLV Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives division regarding the best way to preserve the messages and other mementos from the memorials. Our Special Collections team will be working with the President’s Office to carefully move elements from the memorials for preservation and future display. 

Concurrently, we’ve asked that Faculty Senate leadership begin the process of determining plans for a permanent campus memorial to our fallen colleagues. I appreciate their work and look forward to their recommendation, and I thank chair Dr. Bill Robinson and members of the Faculty Senate for leading this important project. 

The work of our university, and our recovery, will continue. But we’ll forever remember the colleagues we lost on Dec. 6, and we’ll honor their memory and their enduring legacy in all that we do. 

I look forward to seeing many of you next week on campus, during the all hands meeting, and throughout the spring semester as we continue the Rebel Recovery process together. It won’t be easy, nor will it be immediate, but we will emerge from our lowest point stronger than ever because of each of you. I ask that you continue to support one another, and our students, understanding that we’re all at unique points on this journey of recovery. We will continue to share information along the way.  

I’m incredibly proud and humbled to lead this great institution, in part because of the impactful things we do as scholars, the lives we change through education, and how we make our city and region better. As I’ve said since I arrived at UNLV more than three years ago – and it’s as true as ever today – this is a very special community. Together, we are UNLV Strong!

Warm regards, 

Keith E. Whitfield, Ph.D.