Dear WVU Faculty and Instructors:
On Monday, I shared information about the return to campus this fall from the academic perspective. My email provided a broad outline of how we will deliver instruction and restart research while minimizing the impacts of the COVID-19 virus on both students and faculty. Today’s email is focused on the various ways we intend to support your efforts as you begin planning your own “re-entry” to campus.
But first, let me acknowledge what a stressful time this has been. For the past several months, we have all been dealing with anxiety over the Coronavirus and the difficulties of working from home while being isolated from colleagues, family and friends.
More recently, our country has been rocked by the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests against police brutality, bigotry and systemic racism. I’m proud of how our community has responded and how each of you has stood up for social justice, making your voices heard. Your words are very important, as is our shared commitment to building a more diverse, inclusive and supportive university. We will continue to work toward that goal in the days aheadwhile engaging in an honest and open dialogue about both our shortcomings and our opportunities to forge new paths. We all learned from Wednesday’s Campus Conversation that we need to do more.
As we pivot toward our Fall opening, the watchwords will be “compassion,” “curiosity” and “patience.” The COVID-19 epidemic has upended our normal way of doing business and exacerbated the challenges already facing higher education. Campus will not look the same this Fall, and faculty will be called upon to provide our students with a high-quality academic experience in a greatly altered environment.
Here are the many ways in which we are committed to supporting your efforts, working to keep you safe and helping you advance professionally despite these increased demands.
Safety in the Classroom
In addition to conducting widespread COVID-19 testing, we will be requiring that students and faculty wear face masks in the classroom. The University has purchased a large amount of personal protective equipment (PPE), and each student, faculty and staff member will be provided a Welcome Back Kit containing a cloth mask and disposable masks. Portable plexiglass shields will be placed in every classroom and can be moved in front of lecterns, and instructors also can request clear face masks for improved intelligibility.
We also will be engaging in physical distancing protocols, based upon guidance provided by our healthcare professionals and partners. Our goal is to reduce density in our classrooms and labs by 50 percent, which will allow students to spread out and distance from one another. Cleaning supplies, such as sanitizers and wipes, will also be available, and high-touch areas will be regularly wiped and disinfected.
While we’re hoping to encourage our students to voluntarily wear masks — with a message of shared social responsibility — those who don’t comply with our safety requirements will be subject to disciplinary sanctions under WVU’s Code of Student Conduct. We will provide guidance to faculty and instructors for dealing with this potential issue, and we will work with Faculty Senate to create a COVID-19 student conduct statement to be included in Fall course syllabi.
Modes of Instruction
Over the past two months, my team has been working with both faculty and academic leaders across the WVU system to review our course offerings for Fall 2020. To reduce density and allow students to physically distance, we will need to free up larger classrooms. This means that, in addition to some instruction being offered face-to-face, some courses will be converted to online, while other courses will be delivered in a hybrid format that mixes face-to-face instruction with online elements.
A number of factors will help determine the optimal instructional mode for each course. First, we need to ensure that our students have a balanced portfolio of courses and are not receiving all of their instruction onlineunless they choose to do so. The learning outcomes of the course, as well as the accreditation requirements of the discipline, also will be taken into account.
While the academic units will do their best to honor an individual instructor’s preference, course scheduling decisions will need to be made within the context of the University’s larger Return to Campus strategy. The final revised schedule of courses will be completed and available by June 30, 2020. Department chairs or academic leaders will communicate the schedule to instructors in their units when it becomes available.
In addition, all faculty will need to prepare to pivot to online instruction should there be another COVID-19 outbreak that would require us to shut down campus for an indefinite period and shift to remote delivery of instruction. With that possibility in mind, a work group focused on instruction and pedagogy is working with the Teaching and Learning Commons (TLC) to develop guidelines to help faculty prepare to transition their courses to online instruction if necessary.
Instructional Support and Training
With the shift in how we deliver instruction, there will be a continued need for ongoing training and support. This summer, the TLC will provide training webinars and other professional development opportunities. Faculty, instructors and graduate teaching assistants also are highly encouraged to participate in the TLC’s Fall Hybrid Teaching Institute, which addresses a variety of instructional techniques designed to provide more flexibility in teaching.
For those interested, the TLC is offering a special digital credential for faculty who demonstrate excellence in a mode of hybrid instruction known as “Hybrid-Flexible” or “Hy-Flex.” To receive the HyFlex Teaching Endorsement, participants must complete the Fall Hybrid Teaching Institute, demonstrate application of concepts in their teaching, and collaborate with the TLC to serve in a peer-sharing role on campus. Given that the HyFlex model is likely to become a more common mode of instruction, such certification can enhance an instructor’s professional credentials.
To support various modes of instruction, the University is upgrading multiple classrooms this summer to include the latest instructional technologies. And a process is being developed to issue webcams to instructors and students who need them.
We understand and appreciate the extra demands of developing and teaching online and hybrid courses, particularly for the first time. For faculty and instructors tasked with teaching in these new modes of instruction, we are asking academic leaders to provide teaching relief and/or instructional support from graduate teaching assistants whenever possible, recognizing that additional support may not always be feasible in this challenging budget environment.
Illness and Accommodation Requests
Some of you may be fearful about returning to the classroom, particularly if you have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19. In consultation with General Counsel, Medical Management and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, my office has developed a process for managing requests for COVID-19-related accommodations. Such an accommodation, which could include the option to teach online, may occur for a set period of time for faculty members who are at higher risk for severe illness as defined by the CDC or who live with someone who is at higher risk.
The request process is outlined on the WVU Faculty website and has been shared with all deans, chairs and academic leaders. Faculty should make the initial request with the department chairperson/division director or the equivalent academic administrator before submitting to firstname.lastname@example.org. A similar process will be available for graduate assistants, and information details will be available soon on the WVU Graduate Education and Life website.
If you have questions about this process, please direct them first to your academic leader and then to the Office of the Provost at 304-293-2021 or WVUFaculty@mail.wvu.edu.
While we are taking all the necessary precautions, there’s a chance that any of us could become ill at any time. Faculty who are sick with COVID-19 are covered under the same Special Emergency Leave Plan that covers staff members who have the virus. Should they become sick, faculty will need to follow the guidelines outlined in the plan and work with their supervisors to make alternative work arrangements.
Revised Annual Evaluation Guidelines
We recognize that the current pandemic crisis may have caused disruptions to faculty in their teaching, research/scholarship/creative activity and service goals. Furthermore, while we remain committed to recognizing and rewarding high standards of excellence in all three mission areas, we also recognize that faculty, by necessity, may be spending more time on their teaching and less time on research and service.
In recognition of the potential impact of the COVID-19 crisis on research productivity, in late March, we granted an automatic extension to the tenure clock for all tenure-track faculty members. Faculty members can still opt out of this extension. Information about this process can be found on the WVU Faculty website.
For the upcoming academic year, faculty may request to adjust their distribution of effort to reflect the increased amount of time devoted to teaching and mentoring of students as a result of this changed learning environment. The redistribution of effort also may reflect changes in service loads as a result of altered circumstances.
We also are asking academic leaders across campus to exercise flexibility in evaluating faculty research for Spring 2020 and Academic Year 2020-21, depending on the extent and type of disruption experienced and documented by each faculty member. Again, we encourage faculty to provide a narrative explaining any impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their teaching, research/creative activity and service in their annual file.
Faculty members can submit a request for adjustment in distribution of effort up to but no later than August 30, 2020. Complete details about the revised faculty evaluation guidelines are available on the WVU Faculty website.
Supporting Our Students
It also is possible that students will become ill during the course of the semester. We urge all of our instructors to be compassionate and understanding with students who are ill and to ensure they receive the same quality instruction and attention during their quarantine and recovery. Our forthcoming revised (and more flexible) University attendance policy and procedures will help guide your efforts.
Undoubtedly, there will be a different energy in your classes this fall as we all adjust to and cope with our new reality. Your positive attitude and concern for our students and their well-being will help them feel more comfortable and better able to adapt to the new learning environment.
Be sure to remind students about the academic support services available to them through tutoring, the WVU Libraries, Career Services and their academic advisers. Mental health counseling will continue to be offered through the Carruth Center and telehealth providers.
As most of these services are likely to continue in a virtual format, we are strongly encouraging faculty and instructors to follow suit by holding office hours and conducting meetings virtually. By modeling physical distancing and density reduction guidelines, we can continue to build a community that respects and trusts one another in the face of the unknown.
Again, I thank you for your hard work, dedication and willingness to adapt to an ever-evolving situation. WVU is not alone in having to make these hard decisions, as other universities are similarly focused on reopening their campuses while preparing for a variety of contingencies. Please be patient as we work through the details of the Fall semester, check your emails for weekly updates and regularly visit the Return to Campus website.
I also hope you’re able to take time this summer to relax, catch up on your sleep and visit with loved ones whenever possible. The new school year will be here before we know it, and it will require our full focus and energy as we face new challenges that we haven’t yet anticipated.
Finally, as we roll out our Return to Campus communications in the coming weeks, please let us know if we are missing anything. This is a complicated process with many moving parts, and it’s quite possible there are gaps in our thinking and planning since this situation is unprecedented. Send your thoughts and questions to email@example.com.
And please know that we truly appreciate and value you, and we will do everything we can to support your efforts in the coming year! Our successful return to campus will depend on all of us working together in support of our students, each other — and our University.