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Provost Sayrs provides academic updates for Fall 2021

Published: May 6, 2021 Author: Staff reports

The following message was shared with University faculty on May 6, 2021.

Dear Colleagues,

As we close this academic year, I want to provide some academic updates for the upcoming year as well as next steps for the academic planning processes started this year.

  • Updates for the coming year
    • Testing Pathway Program
    • COVID-19 attendance policy
    • Finalizing the fall schedule
    • Probationary faculty survey
  • Next steps for academic planning processes

Updates for the coming year

Testing Pathway Program
As Dr. Gillian Ice has shared, we aim as a University to reach our 70/50 goal—70 percent of students vaccinated and fewer than 50 cases/100,000 among our campus community—to control the spread of COVID-19 on campus and return to enjoying even more normal activities.

To aid in both reaching and understanding when we reach these goals, our public health team has developed two pathways for faculty, staff, and students for summer and fall 2021: the Vaccination Pathway or the Weekly Testing Pathway. I strongly urge you to get vaccinated if you are able to do so and to share that information through the testing pathway website. Please indicate your pathway choice by Friday, May 7 if you will be on campus this summer, or before classes start in August if you will not (you will also receive reminders from the COVID operations team).

I have already chosen the Vaccination Pathway and uploaded my information, and I hope you will too, if you are able, so that together we can both monitor and reach our public health goals. 

COVID-19 attendance policy
During the past year, on the recommendation of the Academic Policy and Process group, we instituted a COVID-19 attendance policy that treats COVID-related illness, quarantine, isolation, or remain-in-room orders as a university legitimate absence. For as long as it is necessary to continue quarantine, isolation, and remain-in-room policies, the COVID-19 attendance policy will remain in effect, so faculty should plan—at this point—for the policy to be in effect for fall 2021 (though we anticipate much lower levels of use as more members of our campuses become fully vaccinated). 

Finalizing the fall schedule
I have been asked a few times recently about when the fall schedule will be finalized. As shared by Dr. Ice and President Nellis in their recent fall planning updates, working with public health, we have been able to increase classroom capacities for fall 2021. Depending on the classroom space, this is approximately 50–75% of pre-COVID-19 classroom capacities. While maintaining a six-foot distance between instructor and students is still recommended, physical distancing for students will be around three feet in classroom environments. We anticipate having enough classroom space for all classes fewer than 40 to be taught in person (for courses that are typically taught face-to-face and for which the faculty member did not receive an exemption). The updated classroom capacities will allow us to be able to accommodate more larger in-person classes as well. Laboratories, studios, and other experiential learning spaces present additional challenges with maintaining distance; capacities for classes conducted in these spaces may vary more widely.  If you have questions about optimizing your use of these spaces, please consult with University Planning office.  

The fall 2021 course offerings originally were planned based on six-foot spacing for all students, although colleges also identified courses that should be moved to face-to-face if public health guidance allowed. These courses have now been moved to in-person instruction. In addition, based on the new classroom capacity guidance, colleges went back and reviewed their schedules to identify any additional classes to move face-to-face, with particular attention paid to courses that have large first-year enrollments, that are traditionally more challenging, or that otherwise might benefit from face-to-face delivery. Many colleges and campuses have developed creative ways to offer classes in a variety of hybrid face-to-face and online formats, and they were encouraged to keep these new formats if they best met the pedagogical needs of the course.

The Registrar has now updated course offerings to reflect the classes that colleges have indicated should be moved from online to in-person modalities. Barring changes in the progression of the pandemic or new public health guidance, we do not anticipate additional university-wide changes to course offerings other than classroom assignments. A caveat: some updates from the colleges will continue leading up to the fall, which happens every year, so you will continue to see some changes.

The Registrar’s office will work to assign rooms through midsummer, prioritizing pedagogical needs (such as technology, equipment, setup), accessibility or accommodation needs, and optimization of classroom capacity, which means that some faculty will teach in rooms in which they have not taught in the past. University Planning and Facilities will work through the second half of the summer to set up classrooms with appropriate spacing based on public health guidelines for the fall.

I am grateful to the Office of the Registrar, especially Registrar Deb Benton and Associate Registrar Bob Bulow, the Curriculum Planning Group (co-led by Sarah Poggione and Joe Shields), University Planning, Facilities, associate deans, chairs and directors, and Dr. Ice and her team for their rapid and intense work to make these updates. The fall classroom capacity guidance came during the first week of priority registration, so the colleges and the Registrar’s office had to move incredibly quickly to avoid disrupting student schedules wherever possible.

Probationary faculty survey
About a year ago, we implemented an automatic tenure clock extension due to the pandemic. Emerging national research has indicated that there have been many and varied barriers to progress toward promotion and tenure for probationary faculty during this time. A survey for probationary faculty will go out this week asking about barriers they have encountered and which policies or support they think would be helpful in their progress toward tenure and promotion. This aligns with a recommendation to survey probationary faculty from the Faculty Senate Promotion and Tenure committee. The results of this survey will help inform any policy recommendations or support that we need to implement in the coming year.

Next steps for academic planning processes

As you all know, the International Opportunities Think Tank and the Academic Planning and Strategy Group subgroups have shared their recommendations. In mid-May, I will post a synthesis of those recommendations and next steps. Also in the upcoming weeks, I will be asking faculty members and members of Deans Council to serve on some focused core groups to plan implementation or the next iteration of some of the priority recommendations from this year’s planning processes and from the academic priorities identified in the Inclusive Excellence strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on a core group this summer, please keep an eye out for some specific opportunities later this month.

For example, some priority areas for this summer are:

  • Develop a metrics task force to continue developing and refining the Academic Metrics and Data Explorer
  • Charge a horizonal cluster pilot task force core group to develop a pilot horizontal cluster project to launch in the fall
  • Finalize an innovative program launch and support initiative
  • Prepare short-term Inclusive Excellence strategic plan actions, including revising new faculty orientation and support for chairs and directors
  • Additional recommendations will go to specific units or existing committees to evaluate and implement over the summer; we want to use existing groups to the extent possible.

We will also be populating several working groups over the mid-to-late summer to be ready to launch in the fall for medium-term priorities, such as the “verticals” and department/school working group, and the global curriculum committee, so please watch your inbox for those opportunities if you are interested in being involved in the fall.

I recognize how surreal it sometimes seems to think about the fall and planning for the future when we are seeing the virus rage in places like India and South America, and while we continue to mourn those who are ill and whom we have lost. I know there is still much uncertainty. We don’t know how quickly the rest of the population will be vaccinated and what that will mean, we don’t know how the virus will continue mutate (and what that will mean), and even as we celebrate our very promising enrollment news, we know that the higher education landscape will continue to be unpredictable, too. But I am so energized by the ideas, the brilliance, and the care that I have heard in the conversations with faculty about the future of this institution over the last six months. It is exactly the right time for our University to home in on what we do best: to help every student—whether an Athens undergrad, regional campus student, online student, or graduate student—go farther than they could imagine, through their interactions with each other, with our communities, and with our outstanding faculty. It is exactly the right time to re-embrace and sharpen our mission as a nationally ranked research institution that continues to partner with its communities to harness the incredible power and opportunity of public higher education at this critical time in our country’s—and the world’s—history.

Finally, while I know it is not possible to acknowledge all who have stepped forward to make this past year possible, I thanked many people at last Monday’s Faculty Senate meeting — the members of Faculty Senate (including Chair Robin Muhammad, Vice Chair Ben Bates, Secretary Ana Rosado Feger, and committee chairs Doug Clowe, Char Miller, Andrew Pueschel, and Jackie Wolf); members of the International Opportunities Think Tank (co-leads Purba Das and Donal Skinner) and the Academic Planning and Strategy Group (subgroup co-leads Brad Cohen, Katie Hartman, Emmanuel Jean-François, Zaki Kuruppalil, Joe Shields, and Scott Titsworth); and those who served on the Academic Policy and Process Group (which quickly updated policies – sometimes multiple times – in response to the pandemic). And I truly appreciate the hundreds of faculty members who participated in the open forums, lunch sessions, and invited conversations, and who have submitted feedback throughout the academic planning processes this past year.

The reality is that you have all worked extraordinarily hard this past year – really, these past fourteen months—not only through your research, scholarship, and creative activity, through your teaching in multiple and shifting modalities, and through your many Teams and Zoom meetings as part of your service—but also, critically, by serving as a constant, steadfast, and reliable connection for our students during a fundamentally tumultuous and unpredictable time. I hope that as this semester closes, you will take some well-deserved time away to rejuvenate and refresh, and that you will look forward to being back with our colleagues, with our friends, and with our students on our campuses as safely as possible in the fall.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Sayrs
Executive Vice President and Provost

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