Dear WVU Faculty and Instructors:
While my office has focused a lot of energy this summer on reimagining and restructuring the academic experience for the Fall semester, we’ve also been considering the impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic on the daily lives of our faculty – most notably the impact on childcare.
We understand that many of you are facing unprecedented challenges with childcare and other dependent care. Even in the best of times, childcare options in the Morgantown area are limited, and the plans for public schools reopening continues to be a fluid situation. There is also the potential for short- or long-term closures of childcare centers and schools due to virus outbreaks and community spread, as well as the need for children to quarantine due to exposure.
We know that these concerns are weighing heavily on our faculty members. To help mitigate some of this added anxiety, my team is working with University partners to identify and provide immediate, short-term resources and to map out a plan for longer-term solutions.
- Financial support to help offset childcare costs for faculty members with significant need;
- Online resources to identify available child- and dependent-care resources;
- Additional opportunity to adjust flexible spending accounts for child- and dependent-care expenses;
- Committee to address long-term solutions for WVU employees’ child- and dependent-care needs;
- Additional extension of the tenure clock for those who may be significantly impacted by providing home care for dependents due to COVID-19; and
- Urging academic leaders to prioritize faculty members’ service activities so they can focus more on teaching and research.
Please read on for details about these efforts and more.
WVU Faculty Childcare Emergency Relief Fund
I am happy to announce that, in an effort to help offset additional childcare expenses and to support teaching efforts, my office will be providing financial support to faculty members with temporary childcare costs above and beyond regular care that result from COVID-related school and/or daycare closures.
Our new WVU Faculty Childcare Emergency Relief Fund will be available for the 2020-21 academic year through which individual faculty members and/or households across the WVU system can apply to receive up to $1,000, depending on established need and available funding. Funds are limited, and faculty with the greatest need will be given higher priority. The application, review and reimbursement process will be managed by the WVU Women’s Resource Center (WRC) throughout the year.
Specific details on eligibility and the application process will be available on the WRC website as we near the beginning of Fall semester. We will be sure to notify you when this information is available. Faculty should note that these funds will be taxable.
Employees (faculty and staff) should be aware that WVU has a membership with Care.com, a national organization that provides services, such as helping to identify caregivers for children and elderly parents. Eligible WVU employees and members of the WVU Retirees Association can utilize the informational site free of charge.
Additionally, my office is partnering with the WVU Strategic Initiatives team and the WRC to develop and provide access to a continuously updated set of interactive maps that will provide detailed information about licensed child- and dependent-care providers in immediate and surrounding counties of WVU campus locations. When this resource is launched, we will share it with the campus community.
We also teamed up with WVU’s Benefits Administration to initiate an additional opportunity for WVU employees to set aside funds for child- and dependent-care expenses through the Mountaineer Flexible Benefits Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts. Typically, only available in during the month of May, employees will now be able to create a new account or adjust their tax-exempt funds to pay for dependent care expenses they incur while at work. Specific details about this will be forthcoming from Benefits Administration.
Longer-Term Childcare Solutions
In addition to these efforts, my office also is working with WVU Talent and Culture and the Office Strategic Initiatives to establish longer-term solutions to the childcare availability issues that many of our employees face each year. Associate Provost Melissa Latimer is co-leading a new committee focused on assessing child- and dependent-care needs of WVU employees, rethinking our caregiving strategies and identifying long-term, sustainable resources.
If you are interested in being considered for this committee, please reach out directly to Dr. Latimer (firstname.lastname@example.org) this summer.
Caregiving and the Annual Review and Promotion and/or Tenure Process
In late March, we provided an automatic extension of the tenure clock for faculty members whose research productivity may have been impacted by the sudden switch to remote teaching. Since then, faculty members have continued to express the difficulties of balancing the demands of work and providing dependent care while at home.
With the potential for increased COVID-19 cases in our area this Fall, we are making available an additional extension of the tenure clock for those who may be significantly impacted by providing home care for dependents. Eligible faculty who face such a situation can submit the existing Request for Extension of the Tenure Clock form on the WVU Faculty website.
While this is not a new process, we have decided to expand the interpretation of this BOG rule in light of the significant caregiving responsibilities and challenges posed by COVID-19.
In addition to the revised annual evaluation guidelines announced in June, I also am urging department chairs and academic leaders to be mindful of faculty service assignments during the upcoming Fall 2020 semester to allow faculty to focus their energies on course development, instructional delivery and research. Faculty should work with their unit leaders to review their assignments and to prioritize time-sensitive activities that are crucial to the advancement of the unit.
As we move closer to the start of Fall, I am becoming increasingly aware of the anxiety many of our faculty are feeling about the reopening of campus and return to the classroom. Please know that the University’s leadership team, in consultation with our healthcare experts, is continually monitoring the situation, and we will adjust our plans should we feel it becomes necessary to do so.
In the meantime, we are making every possible effort to ensure a safe return to campus and help you prepare for the start of the new school year. I continue to be impressed with the dedication, resilience and caring you have demonstrated during this time of uncertainty. I also appreciate your feedback and candor, which has helped to refine our decision-making and enable us to better respond to your needs and concerns. You make me proud to be a Mountaineer.