College of Liberal Arts

Levels of Allowable Non-Virtual Research Activities On and Off Campus

Since Spring 2020, the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) and the College of Liberal Arts (COLA) have been overseeing a plan to incrementally reopen various categories of research activities that cannot be conducted remotely during the pandemic. The five research levels of this plan are structured by changes in the public health environment. Once the University decides that it is safe and prudent to enter a new research level, new categories of lab-based, human subjects, and archival research and other categories of research conducted by COLA faculty can resume on or off campus.

For more information, please go to the OVPR Research Restart website and the UT Research Restart Plan and Levels. More specific information about restarting human subjects research can be found at the OVPR Human Subjects Research Restart website.

Here, COLA faculty, staff, and students can access information about this process, including how to apply to resume or start research activities, including:
- Current Schedule for Changes in Research Levels
- Selection of Projects to Proceed within an Allowable Category of Research Activities
- Additional Information about Human Subjects Research (including current allowable tiers)
- Additional Information About Research in Libraries, Archives, and Collections
- Information about Undergraduate Involvement in Research Activities
- Application for Approval to Conduct Research Activities
- On-Campus Research in Non-COLA Buildings
- More Information about Procurement of PPE

CURRENT SCHEDULE FOR CHANGES IN RESEARCH LEVELS (UT Research Restart Plan and Levels)

Going down a research level (e.g., 3A to 2) does NOT require a new application for any research activity already approved for the higher level, although the addition of any new team members when changing research levels does require notification (please fill out this form and email it to laresearch@austin.utexas.edu). Any new project started at a new research level, however, will require completion of the full application process described below.

RESEARCH LEVEL 3A: Until April 19, 2021

Workforce density limit in on-campus spaces: 50% of the total size of a team of researches
Social distancing rule in on-campus spaces: 1 person per 125 sq. ft. of research space
Allowed human subjects research tiers: A, B, C

 RESEARCH LEVEL 2: April 19–May 16, 2021

Workforce density limit in on-campus spaces: 70% of the total size of a team of researches
Social distancing rule in on-campus spaces: 1 person per 125 sq. ft. of research space
Allowed human subjects research tiers: A, B, C

RESEARCH LEVEL 1: May 17–July 4, 2021

Workforce density limit in on-campus spaces: 85% of the total size of a team of researches
Social distancing rule in on-campus spaces: 1 person per 125 sq. ft. of research space
Allowed human subjects research tiers: A, B, C, D

 RESEARCH LEVEL 0: Beginning July 5, 2021

Workforce density limit in on-campus spaces: 100% of the total size of a team of researches
Social distancing rule in on-campus spaces: None
Allowed human subjects research tiers: A, B, C, D                                                   

Until Research Level 0 is reached, the recommendation continues to be that any research that can be conducted virtually should be conducted virtually. Across levels, including Research Level 0, researchers and their teams should follow University Masking Guidance, and continued participation in Proactive Community Testing is recommended.

For more on shifts and cohorts, workforce management, the procurement of PPE, community partners, and other important information, please see the Research Restart Toolkit and the Research Restart FAQs. For more on human subjects research (e.g., general guidelines, risk-benefit tiers, participant consent form, and symptom screening), please see the Human Subjects Research Restart website and the Human Subjects Research Restart FAQs.

Selection of Projects to Proceed within an Allowable Category of Research Activities
Importantly, even though the transition into a new research level might open up a new category of on-campus research, not all on-campus projects and scholars conducting on-campus research within this newly allowed category can operate. That is because social distancing guidelines, other safety-related guidelines, and the availability of testing and PPE limit how much research can occur on campus during a given time.

As a result, some on-campus research activities will need to be given priority independent of the quality and merit of the research. In line with the principles for research activities adopted by the OVPR, COLA will take into account the following factors in prioritizing on-campus research activities within a category when the University enters a new research level. These factors include:
- Size of team and location on campus in relation to density (most important factor)
- Time-sensitivity of research
- Involvement of early career scholars (including students) with tight timelines
- Relevance of research to COVID
- Careful consideration of COVID effects on the quality of data collection and analyses
- Completion of ongoing research (vs. starting new research)
- Safety and social distancing plan (see Research Restart Toolkit and the Human Subjects Restart website)

This need to prioritize projects within an allowable category will not extend to off-campus research, although certain factors (e.g., location off campus, safety plan) and other university policies (e.g., travel restrictions, library access policies) could influence approval of a project that falls within a general category of research activities that is otherwise allowed.

Additional Information about Human Subjects Research
For the specific case of human subjects research, selection is organized around a tier system that compares risks (to individual participants and research personnel) to benefits (to individual participants and to research/scholarship). The Human Subjects Research Restart website has the matrix of risks to benefits that defines Tiers A, B, C, and D. Each project needs to be positioned within one tier. Projects that involve multiple tiers should be split into multiple applications according to the tiers associated with each activity.

The Human Subjects Research Restart website and the Human Subjects Research Restart FAQs provide guidance about how to categorize a project within a tier along with other information and forms, including:

  • Participant Consent Form-COVID-19 Addendum (in English and Spanish), which will be required of all participants in human subjects research.
  • COVID-19 Symptom Screening Checklist (in English and Spanish), which must be completed by any participant in human subjects research.

Additional Information about Research in Libraries, Archives, and Collections
Many COLA faculty conduct their research in libraries, collections, and archives on and off campus. These sites operate under their own guidelines that dictate when and how COLA researchers can access them, regardless of the Research Level set by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the application and approval systems set up by each college.

Please check with UT Libraries for updates on services and supports for researchers, including the Library Services Continuity Guide. COLA uses a notification system for faculty, staff, and students (with a sponsoring faculty member) to inform COLA about who will be on campus for research and where. That notification system is crucial to managing on-campus activity.

Off-campus research in libraries, collections, and archives on campus is allowed if the site allows in-person research and the appropriate travel authorizations are in place. COLA requires that faculty, staff, and students who have been cleared for off-campus research under these conditions use its notification system.

Information about Undergraduate Involvement in Research Activities
Undergraduates can be approved to join faculty-led research teams and to conduct their own faculty-supervised independent research under certain circumstances. In both cases, the faculty supervisor must go through the restart application process, either by including the undergraduate as personnel on the faculty member’s own project application or by submitting a new application on behalf of (and in collaboration with) the undergraduate. Please see this document for more information and guidance.


Application for Approval to Conduct Research Activities
When the University enters a new research level, COLA will begin receiving applications to start research activities. Please note:

  • Applications are project-specific, meaning that there will be no blanket approvals for all of a scholar’s or lab’s various activities. Each project requires a separate proposal.
  • To give scholars time to propose and receive equal consideration, these applications will be due by a specific date for each new research level, and all applications that arrive by that date will be reviewed together (later applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis).
  • Approval will be for a specific time period rather than open-ended, and, for the sake of equity in the face of space, density, testing, and PPE constraints, some approvals granted in earlier research levels may need to be reconsidered or shortened as the University enters each new research level.
  • Approval will require regular updating, as requested by OVPR and COLA, of the number of personnel working in each space on and off campus.
  • No personnel should be pressured to work if they are uncomfortable doing so, and there should be no disciplinary or retaliatory action taken against anyone who prefers not to return to work due to concerns about infection.

There are three general research applications for three general types of research.

For approval from COLA for animal research and other forms of laboratory research not involving data collection with human subjects, please complete this application.
(you can review the list of questions in this application beforehand)

For approval from COLA for on-campus human subjects research, please complete this application.
(you can review the list of questions in this application beforehand)

For approval from COLA for off-campus human subjects research, please complete this application.
(you can review the list of questions in this application beforehand)

To notify COLA for non-human subjects research in libraries, archives, and collections, please use this notification system (you can review the list of questions in this notification system beforehand). Please note to check for updates about in-person research from UT Libraries. Off-campus research in this category is allowed depending on site approval and travel authorization.

On-Campus Research in Non-COLA Buildings

COLA faculty who conduct their research in non-COLA buildings need to follow the guidelines for those buildings, which are set by other colleges and units, and their applications to COLA need to reflect that.

More Information about Procurement of PPE
UT is centrally organizing the procurement of mass quantities of PPE required for human subject research.

  • Supplies include level-2 surgical grade masks (note: cloth masks cannot be worn when engaging in human subjects research), hand sanitizer (personal use/portable, and 1-L pump bottles), disinfecting wipes (50-count and 80-count packs), face shields (for use when people must break the 6-feet barrier or have direct physical contact with human subjects), goggles/eye protection, and touchless thermometers (note: participants must be temperature-screened prior to participating in the studies)
  • This centrally procured PPE can be accessed free of charge in the STEM stockroom in the Norman Hackerman Building (NHB) unless supplies can be charged to a grant or funding sponsor.
  • PPE can be purchased on grants if a) the sponsor allows it; b) it is required under UT research restart rules, and c) it can be fully allocated to the sponsored project where it's being charged. Importantly, people cannot use grant-purchased PPE for non-research activities (e.g., general movement about campus, teaching).

PPE requirements now include double-masking (one surgical mask covered by one cloth mask).

If you have any questions, please email laresearch@austin.utexas.edu or Associate Dean Crosnoe at crosnoe@austin.utexas.edu.