June 5, 2020
Dear Danforth faculty colleagues,
Summer is here, at last! I hope you are well and able to take some time to reflect after a spring semester that none of us ever envisioned. I have been amazed, inspired and impressed by your flexibility and resilience these past three months. When we asked you to pivot to online teaching after spring break, you stepped up in ways unprecedented and unparalleled. You shifted midstream to an online pedagogy that required new skills, hours of new preparations, and new assessment methods. You found ways to reach your students not only inside the classroom, but in the labs, the studios, and in virtual office hours. Thank you so much for your determination, your creativity, your passion for teaching, and most importantly, your dedication to our students and our mission. You are the backbone of this institution, and we could not have succeeded this spring without you. And succeed we did.
I know you are wondering now what lies ahead. As the Chancellor announced last week, we are planning on a return to residential education in the fall, but the conditions under which that instruction will be done will be very different from how we have done things in the past. It is clear that the public health guidelines with which we are all now familiar—masking, social distancing, minimizing in-person group gatherings, and expanded sanitation practices—are not an easy fit with the way in which residential colleges deliver on our educational mission; and they pose a significant challenge to our research mission, as well. We must acknowledge that online pedagogy will be a part of this new normal in order to accommodate those who are unable to be with us in person. We will be asking a lot of you in this coming academic year. But I know that whatever the obstacles, together we will find a way!
I write with an update on how we are collectively planning for a new academic year that will be unlike any we have experienced before, and to ask for your help. In April, Chancellor Martin appointed the Fall Planning Committee (FPC). This committee is charged with developing a plan for the 2020-21 academic year that positions us to handle a range of scenarios.
The 2020-21 Academic Calendar
The FPC’s first task was to determine a calendar for the coming academic year. On May 27, the Chancellor shared with our community and incoming students our plans for a staggered academic calendar with the graduate and professional schools beginning in August while the undergraduate schools (and their associated graduate programs) commit to a delayed start in September. The extra weeks prior to the arrival of our undergraduates will be extremely valuable to us in monitoring the pandemic as it continues to develop here and elsewhere, in preparing residential housing and dining plans, and in getting a sense of what is and isn’t working with a lower density of students in our campus spaces so that we can adjust our approach accordingly to prepare for higher density in September. The later return will also provide additional time for faculty to prepare flexible course materials, so we can be ready to deliver high-caliber instruction through hybrid in-person and/or online teaching.
You can view the updated academic calendar here: 2020-21 academic calendar.
This calendar eliminates Fall Break for all schools, and for Arts & Sciences, Brown, McKelvey, Olin, Sam Fox, and University College, limits Thanksgiving break to two days — the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is an instructional day. (Law completes its classes prior to Thanksgiving). Thanksgiving break travel will be subject to guidance that will be communicated as it evolves. Further, contingency plans will be in place to shift to fully online teaching at any point during the semester, including around the time of Thanksgiving break.
Planning for Fall Instruction
The Fall Planning Committee next turned its attention to planning for reopening in the fall. The Chancellor expanded the FPC’s work by appointing an Executive Committee which he has asked me to chair, and charged it with developing plans with guidance from our public health and medical experts and input from our community on how to undertake instruction in the fall safely. The Executive Committee established three overarching Standards Committees to provide broad guidance in the following areas: (1) Public Health Principles & Community Behavior Guidelines; (2) Campus Redesign: Density, Facilities, Cleaning & Building Use; and (3) Communications & Engagement. The Standards Committees in turn will consult with and provide guidance to four topical Working Groups: (1) Monitoring & Containment of the Virus; (2) Student Housing & Dining; (3) Danforth Campus Events, Programming & Public Spaces; and (4) The Educational Mission. The Educational Mission Working Group in turn includes four subcommittees: (1) Faculty Training & Support; (2) Technology in Classrooms and Technology for Students; (3) Academic Operations; and (4) Innovation.
Once this structure was approved by the Chancellor and the Fall Planning Committee, I met with the COVID19 Rapid Reaction Committee of the Faculty Senate Council, which had given valuable guidance to the Chancellor and me during the spring semester as we confronted multiple time-sensitive situations where we needed faculty input. The Rapid Reaction Committee offered insightful suggestions on the charges and emphasis of the structure outlined above, and generously offered to serve on the committees and working groups.
As we were finalizing the membership on these committees and working groups, I had the opportunity to meet with faculty representatives of the AAUP and they also offered helpful input, including especially suggestions about issues of concern to the faculty on items that should be addressed in a broad communication to all faculty. That guidance helped to inform this message and messages to come. You will continue to see communications of this sort directly from my office, as well as other important updates that will appear in the Danforth Campus Digest.
A full description of the Executive Committee’s standards groups, working groups, and committees, including their charges, committee membership, and timelines is available here. Over 150 community members have agreed to participate in this labor-intensive process, including faculty from all seven schools and many disciplines, as well as representatives from the Faculty Senate Council’s Rapid Reaction Committee. In addition, working groups and committees will consult with other faculty and staff as needed to accomplish their goals. I am also grateful to each of our deans, who are working tirelessly to prepare for the fall and to deliver local level messaging, host town halls, and process your important feedback. The Executive Committee — Marion Crain, Chair; Monica Allen; Rebecca Brown; Heather Corcoran; Dedric Carter; Jen Smith; Nancy Staudt; Mark Taylor; and Rob Wild — welcomes your input at any point in this process.
Working groups and committees will be completing their work near the end of June. The Executive Committee is charged with providing synthesized recommendations to the Fall Planning Committee in early July, followed by a full report to the Chancellor by July 15. These recommendations will inform the Chancellor’s decision-making process and will shape the details about how fall instruction will proceed. We will provide these details to our university community and to our students by July 31.
Faculty Responsibilities & Teaching in the Fall
We anticipate that fall classes will be offered through a combination approach – in-person, hybrid (a combination of in-person and online), and online. The in-person class structure may be staggered or offered on rotating schedules to reduce on-campus density and achieve social distancing in our classrooms. Most classes will have online options for participation even when students are on campus. Some will be offered in a purely online format if enrollment is too large to safely permit in-person instruction or for other reasons. In effect, online education will be the default instruction modality given the importance of being able to pivot to online instruction should public health considerations require it. We will be providing support and training for faculty aimed at enhancing our online pedagogy. Some of this will be provided locally, and some centrally. We will begin rolling out these supports sometime in June.
Decisions on which classes will be offered in-person, online, or in hybrid form will be made over the next two months at the local level by deans, department chairs and program directors in consultation with the faculty who teach them. Deans, chairs and directors will be working to ensure that students have a balanced array of in-person and online opportunities from which to choose. Their plans will be guided by recommendations from the Fall Planning Committee, particularly as they relate to classroom density and public health guidelines.
We know that many faculty and staff are concerned about health and safety on campus when we return with our students in the fall. These are important concerns that we take very seriously. The Public Health Principles & Community Behavior Guidelines Standards Committee and the Monitoring & Containment Committee, both of which include healthcare professionals from our School of Medicine, Habif Health and Wellness Center, and our Division of Infectious Diseases, are charged with making recommendations to protect the health and safety of our community. Changes to the in-classroom experience will involve social distancing, reduced class size and a requirement that masks be worn. Students who do not abide by the guidelines we establish may be subject to discipline under the University Student Conduct Code and may be required to participate remotely.
We understand that there may be circumstances that you will want to raise regarding your personal health and safety on campus. We envision a two-step process for these discussions. First, our Public Health Principles & Community Behavior Guidelines Committee will develop guidance on health and safety practices, including those related to campus density and community member behavior, with the health and safety of our community as a guiding principle. Second, faculty should consult with their deans, department chairs, or program directors to determine the modality in which their courses are best offered in light of considerations of faculty safety, pedagogical goals, classroom density and scheduling considerations. Alternatively, if you prefer to keep health information private, you may contact Kevin Pelzel in Human Resources to discuss options, which may include use of the university’s accommodation process. The priority throughout these conversations will be placed on faculty safety, as well as ensuring health information remains private.
This is a high-level overview of what we are working on, so you can expect further communication from my office as our planning progresses, and from your respective deans regarding the impact this will have on your work specifically. Many of our deans are already planning to convene town hall meetings to discuss logistics and answer questions, so please be on the lookout for an invitation from them soon.
Once again, thank you for all the ways you have contributed to our response to COVID-19 this past spring, and the ways you are already working to make the fall transition as seamless as possible. It has been a rollercoaster ride, and I’m so grateful you are continuing to stay on board, even as bumpy as it may seem at times. I greatly appreciate your patience, understanding, feedback, and care and concern for our students. Warmest wishes to you on a safe and healthy summer.
Interim Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Wiley B. Rutledge Professor of Law