Supporting Our Students This Fall
Dear Deans, Directors and Department Chairs,
Think back to your first semester – your first weeks – in college, and about how you learned to navigate this new and exciting community. There was probably some fear and anxiety mixed in with the excitement you felt then. Now think about how the pandemic has magnified anxiety across the nation. We are about to embark on a journey none of us has taken before, and we have spent our summer preparing to the fullest extent possible. Our students, especially first-year students, are about to do something exceptional, too, which is exciting and bold and scary – they are leaving their homes to take their first steps into adulthood in the middle of a pandemic.
It’s simply fundamental to the success of our students that we are here for them as they get settled on campus – to answer their questions and to help them access the services they need. While some of this work can happen remotely, much of it can only take place in person.
We’ve encouraged faculty and staff who can continue to work effectively from home, to continue doing so. As we begin the fall semester, we are at a point where addressing the needs of our students changes how we define “effectively.” We have employees whose presence on campus, in some capacity, is fundamental to meeting our students’ needs.
Staff, administrators and faculty have been working tirelessly throughout the summer on plans and measures to help us more safely repopulate our Lawrence and Edwards campuses in preparation for fall semester. Even with the fall class schedule reset to provide more engaging hybrid instruction, we know that students are returning to Lawrence in part because they want and need to take advantage of the services they pay for and to which they are accustomed.
It is necessary that we schedule our student-facing personnel to be in office to provide some reasonable amount of in-person access to our services that prepare and support our students for their success in their academic programs. Though our programming and services this fall will look and feel different from that of previous semesters, this doesn’t mean they are any less important or less essential to our students.
Over the past six months, all members of our community have had to make difficult decisions to adapt to changes and new developments as a result of the pandemic. For those of us in supervisory roles, it’s time to lead our units in adapting and changing yet again. On behalf of our students, I ask that each supervisor make it a priority this week to coordinate schedules of staff and faculty to ensure you are providing the fundamental programs and services on-campus that support our students. I know that addressing this supervisory responsibility will require flexibility, creativity and concern for the wellbeing of your employees and co-workers. Here are some points to keep in mind as you work with employees to complete this task this week:
- In-person service doesn’t have to be 8 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Though I can’t tell you what “reasonable in-person access” is for your unit, I’m sure you’ll know it, and most important, so will our students.
- We will have an opportunity to revisit employee scheduling as we better understand demand for in-person services. Our situation is fluid and student needs will no doubt change throughout the semester.
- If you have gaps in ability to provide student services because of staffing shortfalls, please reach out to Vice Provost Mike Rounds in Human Resource Management to coordinate temporary support.
I understand this might be a challenging task. It involves talking with employees and understanding their individual situations and needs, while also balancing the mission to serve students. Some employees may benefit from reminders that we have worked to manage the density of people and expect to have fewer people physically in our campus structures this fall. Operations and other offices have also lifted mountains to provide modifications and protective measures in all areas of our campuses. These changes extend far beyond the summary I provided last Tuesday. Please visit protect.ku.edu to see the multitude of changes adopted to improve health and safety and reduce the risk of transmission. If there are additional safety protocols that your staff would like configured in their workspaces, please connect with Operations leaders (KUOperations@ku.edu) to coordinate those changes.
As I’ve said many times, the work we do in higher education is essential. It’s through our efforts to educate leaders, create scholars, conduct research and serve society that we develop the people, the community and the tools that will help lift us out of this pandemic and, I hope, prevent future pandemics.
Your leadership is more important now than it’s ever been. The start of the fall semester is a special time for all of us, and especially for our students. How we work with students this fall will shape their future success as well as their impression of this institution for decades to come. Thank you for the hard work you’ve undertaken in the past several months, and thank you for the work you’re about initiate.
Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor