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A Special Appeal to the Faculty

Dear colleagues,
This semester has been difficult. It has been hard on you, and it has been very hard on our students. They have told us they feel disconnected, have trouble making friends, and miss the opportunities to get to know classmates and discuss their studies. They miss the serendipitous encounters and impromptu conversations that we have taken for granted in the past and that turn out to be essential to their academic success. Our students need connection, and they need our help in providing that connection. They need the opportunities we describe in this email.

Where we are today—COVID-19 transmission in classroom spaces not an issue

Over the past seven months, we have learned a lot about the spread of the virus on campus. Thanks to required masks and social distancing, transmission in classrooms and laboratories has not been an issue. Nationally, the results are similar: transmission from in-person college teaching is very low.

Testing expansion—spring 2021

This spring, we will expand our comprehensive testing to include students who reside off campus and make screening tests available to faculty and staff. We have seen tremendous success in our community testing strategies, and the transmission rate of the virus on campus has dropped significantly since the start of the semester. The cumulative positivity rate in our on-campus residences is currently less than 1 percent.

Our appeal to you—more in-person instruction

As we enter the final push to determine course schedules for the spring semester, we need more in-person (face-to-face and hybrid) classes. We need you to help us fulfill our mission as a residential campus that offers in-person opportunities for engaged and active learning.
We request that classes with fewer than 30 students be taught in person. We can accommodate many larger classes in person as well, but we are making a special appeal to all of you who are teaching small classes. If conditions deteriorate after classes begin, we will take measures to protect you and all members of our community, as we did last spring and just this fall by limiting in-person meetings.
Factors for consideration in moving instruction back to the classroom:
  • We have plenty of classrooms that can accommodate small classes with social distancing. We will help you access this space, even if it’s not in a building where you typically teach.
  • We have learned from our fall experience that juggling both remote and in-class students in hybrid classes has been difficult for instructors. For the spring, you do not need to broadcast in-person class sessions synchronously. If students need to miss class, they can view recordings and work with you during office hours or at other agreed-upon times.
  • You can enforce attendance, but we ask that you accommodate students who have to isolate or quarantine. Our Office of Student Success will inform you if a student has to miss class for a reason related to COVID-19. Flexibility is still needed, but students can and should be held accountable for following your course policies.
In light of all we have learned and for the sake of our students, we ask you to move your instruction back to campus for spring 2021 unless you have a medical, personal, or pedagogical reason for choosing otherwise.
Please work with your department scheduler to submit modality changes to the Office of the Registrar by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28.

For those teaching online—creating connections through online learning communities

We are grateful for the work you have done this semester on behalf of our online students; however, we are still hearing from them a wish for more opportunities to connect with you and other students. Based on this feedback, we expect instructors in online classes to create virtual learning communities as part of each class. This will help overcome the challenges of physical distance by creating opportunities for students to get to know one another and their instructor. The Office of the Provost is developing learning community resources for instructors and will follow up in the next week with that information. Department heads will be expected to work with instructors to ensure they choose options for creating virtual learning communities that work for them and their students.
From the beginning, we have said that our principles for leading with courage through this pandemic are to keep our community healthy and hopeful, keep our students on track to graduation, and be creative, compassionate, and flexible. We will continue to embrace these values as we keep working to improve our understanding of the virus and its transmission, expand comprehensive testing, and respond to our campus’s needs.
Our students will continue to succeed because talented faculty—leaders like you—invest in and connect with them and adapt to conditions as they change. Thank you for all you do.
Donde Plowman
John Zomchick
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor