May 23 Message to Faculty/Staff: Spring Surveys, Summer Classes and Planning for Fall

To Our Faculty and Staff:

I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy, well and very much enjoying this holiday weekend. You all more than deserve this break after such a difficult semester.

I appreciate the adjustments and adaptations that all of you made to accommodate remote education and conduct other university operations online—as well as the efforts of those who continued to work on campus throughout the spring. 

As we review the results of evaluations and surveys regarding spring courses, we are learning a great deal about students’ perspectives about your efforts:

  • 87 percent of students either agreed or strongly agreed that instructors did their best to adapt;
  • 64 percent agreed or strongly agreed that instructors’ availability and responsiveness during remote education was about the same as earlier in the semester; and
  • 75 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they were confident they had completed their courses successfully.

In addition, consider these comments:

  • “I could tell my professors were putting a lot of effort to give us the best experience possible despite the circumstances.”
  • “I was really impressed with my professors and how empathetic they were to their students’ needs, all while adjusting their classes in a very short period of time.”
  • “The professors worked so hard and were able to be as attentive, if not more [so], when online.”

Thank you for demonstrating such exceptional dedication to our students this spring; you clearly made a major, positive difference for them as they dealt with relocation and remote learning.

Many of you have stepped up in additional ways. Several weeks ago, we encouraged you to propose new courses for our summer terms, and you responded with enthusiasm. Nearly a dozen of our first-time courses touch on the pandemic in some manner, including representation from history and philosophy, religion and sociology.

The additional classes certainly have appealed to students; as of Friday, enrollment was more than 75 percent higher than last year—and we still have more than a month to go before the start of our final summer term.

In addition, nearly 100 of you have enrolled in a six-week program designed to help prepare faculty for dual-delivery of courses this fall. Led by UTech’s Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) and the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education (UCITE), this “summer camp” will explore ways to lead courses where students are participating in person and online, and discuss how different strategies might apply to respective offerings.

I am grateful to all of those involved in developing the twice-weekly program; TLT and UCITE, as well as the Office of Faculty Development and the Kelvin Smith Library, plan to offer more programs this summer.

In an ideal world, we could look toward a more traditional fall semester with everyone here for classes. Instead, uncertainty about the pandemic’s impact on international travel and other aspects of returning to campus entails adoption of a dual-delivery model to be able to serve all students. As necessary as this approach is, we also recognize that it creates yet another pedagogical challenge. More, the prospect of teaching in person has raised concern among some of those whose age and/or underlying health conditions put them at greater risk for COVID-19.

As President Snyder noted in her email yesterday, multiple campus committees are actively preparing for fall. These groups include academic deans, research deans, Faculty Senate committees on undergraduate and graduate education, school executive committee representatives and a student leadership group.

In addition, next week we will kick off our faculty re-entry committee, whose charge includes addressing the health and safety concerns many of you have articulated. This group includes all school deans, Faculty Senate Chair Joachim Voss, faculty from the school-based Executive Committees, and representatives from such areas as my office, Research, UTech, Emergency Management and Procurement.

This week, we will post the charges and membership of several of these groups on the Provost’s website, as well as additional details about ways to engage with them.

Thank you for all you have done and the many ways you are engaging to be as prepared as possible for the uncertainties of the fall semester. We look forward to updating you on this work in the coming weeks.

With gratitude,

Ben Vinson III
Provost and Executive Vice President