Reflections on Fall, Preparations for Spring

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, 9:26 a.m.
KU Lawrence All Staff, Faculty and Affiliates KU Graduate Teaching Assistants

Dear Faculty, Staff and GTAs,

I hope you had a happy and relaxing break, and I wish you a healthy 2021!

As we begin the spring semester, let me take one more opportunity to express my deepest appreciation to each of you for all you did over summer and fall to support our students, your peers, and in stewardship of the university during what may have been the most challenging semester in its history. I know our faculty sacrificed research and service time, our staff worked extended hours to not only do the work, but also to redesign programs and services due to COVID-19. I know all of this was done under extremely difficult conditions. Thank you for your perseverance and partnership –you did amazing work.

Because of your care and vigilance, we made it through the fall semester. Precautions such as wearing facemasks, limiting gathering size and practicing physical distancing helped to stem the spread of the virus. Let us continue to keep all who have been affected by COVID-19 in our thoughts and prayers.

Attendance Behaviors and Policies

One of the most important lessons from fall semester is that faculty who teach on campus need to know when students are not going to be in class, in order to prepare appropriately to provide engaging activities. I have sent a message to students with tips to facilitate their academic success, and I have encouraged them to contact instructors if they will not be able to attend a class. My message to students explains the impact that erratic attendance practices — and, more specifically, the lack of communication about their plans regarding attendance — had on instructors and the classroom experience. As you finish preparations for the spring semester, please review attendance policies in your syllabi for in-person and synchronous classes to ensure you clearly communicate your expectations regarding attendance. We should still be committed to offering students grace — and excused absences — when it’s needed due to quarantine or isolation protocol. We should also be committed to finding a balance that honors the needs of instructors and other students enrolled in the course.

Continue to Practice All Safety Measures

In a continued effort to make campus spaces as safe as possible, Facilities Services has been working on campus buildings over winter break to install touchless entry systems and augment air filtration systems. While we have made improvements, this spring we will also continue our campus-wide safety practices, such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance in classrooms and teaching labs.

We have received questions about whether masking and physical distancing measures will apply to Jayhawks who have received vaccines or who have had COVID-19. The answer is, yes, everyone must wear masks and maintain appropriate physical distance when on campus, regardless of whether one has received the vaccine or has had the virus. These practices are documented to reduce spread of the virus and are healthy habits that will be continued by all on campus until further notice from public health officials and our Pandemic Medical Advisory Team.

Renewed Focus on Engaging Instruction

To all our instructors who have invested in developing and providing engaging student experiences for your courses — whether in-person, online, or hybrid — please know I have heard from many of our students who deeply and sincerely appreciate your efforts. Now more than ever, our students are hungry not only to earn a degree; they are yearning for connection with their peers, their instructors, and their subject matter. From my perspective, providing highly engaging experiences remains among the most crucial features of the educational environment we can offer.

If at any point during the semester you should need help or inspiration for your teaching, our Center for Teaching Excellence has documented some of the creative approaches KU instructors have used to foster student engagement and learning in spring and fall 2020. Many of these exciting approaches tap into some of KU’s distinctive resources, such as the Spencer Museum of Art, the Center for Service Learning, the Center for Undergraduate Research, KU Libraries and KU alumni networks. CTE’s Flexible Teaching Guidebook is filled with guidance and examples on designing and implementing engaging and meaningful learning experiences. CTE, the Center for Online and Distance Learning, and KU IT’s Ed Tech team are available with guidance, resources and programs for all instructors. These three units have also assembled designated consulting teams (TLCs), composed of CTE faculty consultants and consultants from CODL and KU IT, for each school and academic unit on campus. Please take advantage of their expertise whenever you need it.

Vigilance and Progress

We’ve all heard promising news about COVID-19 vaccines, and yet we know we must continue to be vigilant in our safety efforts and protective measures. Our many advisory committees continue to meet regularly to identify and prepare for the potential impact of current and projected conditions. Our Unified Command Team, PMAT and others are addressing a number of other issues I suspect are on your minds, including:

  • Prevalence testing for spring semester
  • Academic policy and deadline modifications for spring
  • Resumption of inbound and outbound international travel
  • Vaccination campaigns
  • Commencement and year-end events
  • Summer camps and conferences

Please use this form to ask specific questions that can help shape FAQs and campus-wide messaging.

Finally for this email, and of most immediate concern, if you haven’t yet done so, please remember to sign up for re-entry testing prior to February 1.

I wish you and your students a spring semester full of discovery, learning and growth.



Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor