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Responding to Instructor Concerns for Fall Semester

From: 
Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Sent: 
Tuesday, June 30, 2020, 11:41 a.m.
To: 
KU Lawrence All Staff, Faculty and Affiliates
KU Graduate Teaching Assistants
KU Graduate Research Assistants
KU Graduate Assistants

This message pertains primarily to those in instructional roles. Additional information about returning to on-campus work will be sent to other KU employees as the summer progresses.

Dear GTAs, Instructors, Faculty and All Teaching Staff,

Thank you to all who have reached out to me expressing concerns, primarily those about teaching on campus this fall, about using the ADA compliance process to address COVID-related matters, and about making sure your voices are heard.

I understand that many of you are fearful and anxious about returning to campus, and your concerns are heightened by your need for critical information about health-safety measures being put into place for fall.

So many of our staff and leaders have been working nonstop to get our arms around the thousands of details in these uncharted waters that will protect our people as we open campus in the fall. In our focus on the logistics, we have implemented processes that seemed reasonable in the moment but have not served you well. We have failed to demonstrate to our students, staff, and faculty that we value a culture of transparency and caring. In so doing, I understand trust has been broken.

As a demonstration of my commitment to do my part to live up to our values, I have approved a course correction for several items, beginning with canceling the international student fee increase. I’m sure that as we learn more about how to live and work together in this time of crisis, we will have other corrections along the way. I appreciate your understanding that we can’t predict everything about the future, and that the virus is directing our options. We are trying to be agile enough to respond to a changing public health landscape.

Notably, no instructor will be asked to teach on campus if they feel it will compromise their health or their family’s health to do so. While students want and expect to come to KU in the fall and have in-person experiences with faculty and instructors, you are the one who knows best what is right for you and your family. The Protect KU Plan can answer questions you may have about how we are preparing your classrooms and learning environments.

Next, those of you who have used the process of filing for an ADA accommodation for fall can instead use a simple process that all instructors will soon be asked to complete to merely register the safety level you require if you teach an in-person or blended class. In a follow-up message, you will receive a link to a survey to indicate your teaching preferences for this fall.

  • The information will be shared with your chair, director, associate dean or the person responsible in your unit for class scheduling. Your units may have already worked out much of this with you; they will need to make their final assignments the week of July 13.
  • We will have a central record to assist in allocating resources needed to be ready for fall.

The reason we are engaging in this process is because we have a need for information that will allow us to reconcile three of our most important guiding principles, which are:

  • Our people are our top priority.
  • We will meet people wherever they are.
  • We will provide engaging, flexible and seamless experiences for students.

While we are doing all we can to protect KU and our people, our hope and aspiration continues to be that, in the fall, both our students and our instructors can have as many engaging experiences as possible, which are generally best achieved on-campus and in-person, though these may also be achieved in “hyflex” hybrid courses, as well as through well-designed online courses.

As the Chancellor and I have both said in other contexts, there are many reasons why we will make efforts to bring students on our campuses this fall:

  • Our mission of research, teaching and service is essential, and we simply can’t achieve our highest aspirations while working only at a distance.
  • Our students and their parents have told us they want and need to be here. A recent survey done by the AAU finds that 51% of graduating high school seniors who intend to enroll in AAU schools this fall say there “does not seem to be much point in enrolling” if instruction is only virtual.
  • Our most vulnerable students are likely to suffer the most by not being here. (Please consider reading the special report on this matter from Inside Higher Education.)
  • The best opportunity for KU to emerge from the financial challenges we face as a result of COVID-19 with the least long-term damage is to educate more students, and subsequently to gain the tuition revenue they provide.

For these reasons and many more, I continue to state that our goal and aspiration for the fall semester is to have as many of our classes as possible taught through in-person, hybrid, and hyflex formats. My articulation of this goal is in no way intended to negate the choices made in academic units about course delivery. Nor has it ever been intended to force any instructor into a classroom where they do not feel well-protected. We simply need to know who will not be in the classroom, and who can be in the classroom with extra personal protective equipment, so we can appropriately prepare, and also let our students know what to expect when they return for fall semester.

Finally, I understand you would like more transparency and a place where your voice can be heard. Later this week, I will communicate about ways I hope to improve our openness and transparency. The two most immediate items are 1) forming a 60-day Pandemic Project Management Team with representatives of our campus constituent groups, and 2) a weekly survey to faculty, staff, and students to hear about your ideas and your pain points as we move into fall.

As I read and listen to your comments and concerns, I can tell that each of our community members is acting with love for this great institution and with fear and anxiety about our personal future and the future of KU, given the pressures thrust upon us – financial, logistical, societal, and COVID-related. I also see and know that all who are working countless hours and giving all their energy now to keep us moving forward, share your love of my alma mater, and are as fearful and anxious as you are. I believe that, even if today it seems as though we are further apart than we should be, we will come together and we will prevail.

Respectfully,

Barb

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor

Office of the Provost
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