Dear West Virginia University Campus Community:
Last week we announced the re-opening of our West Virginia University campuses for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. As you prepare your own return to campus, I imagine you’re feeling a mix of emotions — excitement, perhaps a little anxiety, as well as a need for clarity about what the campus experience will be like this fall. I believe you will find answers to most of your questions as we roll out detailed information over the next several weeks.
As Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, I serve as the University’s chief academic officer, overseeing academic policies, faculty development and culture, academic facilities and budget, and global engagement and community outreach. But above all, my office is responsible for working with faculty to provide a high-quality and relevant academic experience for our undergraduate and graduate students across all campuses.
The COVID-19 pandemic that struck last spring was a challenge like nothing we have ever faced before, requiring us to close campus and pivot to remote instruction in just two weeks. While we are still dealing with the effects and impacts of the pandemic, we believe we can bring our students and faculty back to campus safely by conducting widespread testing, wearing protective masks and following evidence-based social distancing protocols.
Through my office, we have designed a number of changes to provide students with an engaging and safe academic experience. Below is a detailed breakdown of information shared in last week’s Return to Campus Conversation. We will share new information as it becomes available through various campus communications, including the Return to Campus website.Academic Calendar for 2020-2021
The revised 2020-2021 Academic Calendar is now available online. The Fall 2020 semester will begin on Wednesday, August 19. However, we have made several adjustments to the overall calendar with the goal of keeping students on campus and minimizing their travel to reduce their risk of exposure and potential virus surge in our communities.
As a result, we have canceled Fall Break and will end face-to-face instruction on Tuesday, November 24 – just before Thanksgiving. Students will not return to campus after the Thanksgiving holiday break but will resume online instruction for the week of November 30- December 4. Finals week, which is scheduled for December 7-11, will be conducted exclusively online.
Our Spring 2021 semester will start a week later than usual and will begin on Tuesday, January 19. While there will be no extended Spring Break this year, our campuses will schedule several days throughout the semester during which no instruction will occur. The last day of classes will be April 30, with finals week being held on campus May 3-7, 2021.Safety in the Classroom
As President Gee mentioned in his letter last week, much has been done to ensure the health and safety of our campus community as we look toward returning to campus. And safety in our classrooms is of utmost importance.
One of the primary goals is to reduce classroom density by 50% as advised by our healthcare professionals and partners. To free up larger classrooms to accommodate for social distancing, we are moving a number of courses to online delivery. Other courses will shift to a hybrid format involving a mix of on-campus and online instruction. At the same time, we also are considering off-campus locations that will provide additional spaces for classroom instruction.
In addition to social distancing efforts, all students and instructors will be required to wear masks. Each faculty, staff and student will receive a Welcome Back Kit containing a cloth mask and disposable masks. Other personal protective equipment (PPE) will be in place, such as Plexiglass screens in front of lecterns. Cleaning supplies, such as sanitizers and wipes, also will be available throughout all buildings. High-touch areas in all campus buildings will be wiped and disinfected using products approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Instruction and Academic Support Services
I’m sure many of you are wondering where and how your classes will be delivered. By June 30, if not sooner, we will release a finalized course schedule for Fall 2020 that will include for each course, the classroom location, the days and time the course will be offered, as well as mode of delivery if it is not being delivered face-to-face.
The mode of instruction for each course will depend upon a variety of factors including room availability, type of instruction required and the overarching goal of providing students with a balanced instructional experience. My office is working in consultation with academic leaders across campus to make these determinations.
In addition to ensuring the health and safety of campus community members, our goal is to provide a reasonable mix of instructional modes for our students – especially our freshmen and sophomores.
Realistically, though, every individual student’s schedule will vary. For instance, most graduate students are typically enrolled in smaller courses, which are more likely to be delivered on campus, with the exception of some courses such as research hours and independent studies.
Once the final schedule is announced, students should review their schedule online and contact their academic adviser if they want to make adjustments.
Even with these changes in place, I can assure you that all WVU students will receive the quality instruction they have come to expect – and deserve – regardless of delivery mode. Unlike the scenario we faced in the Spring 2020 semester, we will have more time to develop fully online and hybrid courses.
This summer, WVU Teaching and Learning Commons is offering training and support for faculty and instructors preparing courses for full online and hybrid delivery. We also are upgrading classrooms to include the latest instructional technologies and will have a number of webcams available for those who need them.
Finally, the University will continue to provide academic support services virtually, including academic advising, tutoring and success coaching. To further reduce density on campus, faculty and instructors will be strongly encouraged to hold office hours online.Policies and Personal Accountability
As stated earlier, students, employees and visitors will be required to wear masks on campus and to social distance according to public health and University guidelines. Students who fail to follow the safety protocols established by the University could be asked to leave the classroom and possibly face additional student conduct sanctions. Employees who fail to follow protocol also could be subject to disciplinary action.
In recognition that some students may become ill during the course of the semester, the University is developing a more flexible attendance policy. We also will ensure that students who are unable to attend class because of illness are provided with alternative opportunities to receive course content and meet course outcomes.
Faculty, instructors and graduate teaching assistants who are at higher risk for severe illness as defined by the CDC or who live with someone who is at higher risk will have an opportunity to request accommodations, such as an online teaching assignment. Additional details will be forthcoming.Research
In May, we began reopening our research labs with strict PPE requirements and social distancing protocols in place. The current priority is research that is externally funded and that involves graduate students who need to conduct research to continue their academic progression. It is anticipated that this activity will continue to ramp up during the summer, but all research that can be conducted remotely should continue in that mode – including research involving human subjects.
No in-person research involving human subjects can begin until approved by the department chair (or unit manager) and college dean (or designee). Faculty with full board and expedited research studies are encouraged to amend their WVU IRB protocols to include the option of conducting research remotely through such methods as video conferencing, phone interviews, electronic surveys and electronic consent.
University travel overall will be very limited, but first priority will be given to funded research travel. All faculty who travel outside of the state will be expected to observe travel guidelines established by the state, county and University.
The Research Office is leading the planning effort for increased research activity this fall. For the latest information about the return to research activity on campus, please visit the Research Office website.International Students and Study Abroad
After consulting with many of our international partner institutions, WVU has canceled all study abroad trips for the Fall 2020 semester, including incoming and outgoing student exchanges. The decision about study abroad for Spring 2021 will be made in mid-fall. In the meantime, some faculty are developing “virtual exchanges” to provide their students with a shared academic experience with international students.
The Office of Global Affairs (OGA) continues to provide support to all of its international WVU students. Since some international students may not be able to return to campus in the fall, OGA is working to enroll these students in online courses that allow them to continue to make progress toward their degree. OGA will continue to monitor and resolve any student access issues that may arise and work with the appropriate academic departments to ensure students can obtain the necessary course materials, including textbooks.
OGA also has been working closely with the deans, the Office of Graduate Education and Life, and Tax Services to ensure the maximum possible number of international students awarded graduate assistant positions will be able to perform their duties this fall. Students with graduate assistant positions who remain abroad should contact Tax Services and OGA to confirm their eligibility to work. Students and work supervisors are encouraged to reach out to OGA for additional information and further guidance.Planning for a Safe Start
As Dr. Gee said in his email last week, the success of our fall reopening will ultimately rely on our entire campus community taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of ourselves and each other.
While none of us can predict what may happen in the future, by listening to the advice of our healthcare professionals and by taking all necessary precautions, we will have a much better chance of ensuring a successful start – and finish – to the 2020-21 school year.
Please continue to stay safe and well this summer; I look forward to seeing you back on campus in August!
WVU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs