Thoughts on Preparing to Welcome our Students and Course Format Questions


Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Friday, August 20, 2021, 4:05 p.m.
KU Lawrence Faculty and Staff KU Graduate Teaching Assistants

Dear colleagues,

Thank you for all you’ve done to prepare for Academic Year 2021-2022 and the return to classroom instruction this semester.

I’ve received some questions and concerns centering on what constitutes an in-person course and I want to clarify so that all understand our expectations on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses.

First, let me offer some very promising preliminary results regarding our student vaccination campaign:

  • 70 percent of our student housing population is fully vaccinated so far, with more who are partially vaccinated and finishing their shot series and others who are bringing their vaccination records as they move in today.
    • 85 percent of our scholarship hall residents are vaccinated.
  • Students are literally lining up for vaccine clinics at Watkins Health Services and many more students have scheduled vaccinations at pop-up clinics in targeted locations in the days ahead.
  • We’ve had exceptional traffic to our vaccine incentive record upload portal with more than 10,000 visits in less than a week’s time.
  • We have other anecdotal reports that vaccination rates among students are encouraging.

We have reason to believe, and evidence to support, that our students are committed to protecting their own health, your health and the health of others, and they are taking appropriate action to protect us all. We also know students want, and in many cases need, in-person classes.  

In a recent response to several chairs, I outlined many of the measures we, as an institution, have taken to protect the health of our community members as we balance the need for in-person instruction. My message also referenced that for courses listed as “in-person,” well-designed classroom-based courses may include as much as 24% online instruction and interaction. It’s been noted that some instructors may be considering independently moving the first few weeks of their courses to an online format in response to their personal COVID concerns. Let me be clear: Concern alone is not appropriate justification for an action that has broader, serious implications for students and our institution, and deans must approve any decisions to change course formats.

As many of you are aware, there are federal and state regulations that affect how we deliver instruction. Federal regulations require that courses be highly engaging. Earlier this year, our state legislature, spurred by public concern and legal actions filed against Regents universities, including KU, asked for assurances that courses are not moved to an online format solely out of concerns for COVID. Failure to adhere to regulations can jeopardize funding that, frankly, allows us to remain open, supports our research, and makes us welcoming to our students.

Most importantly, our students have chosen KU – to put their trust in us and to invest their tuition here – based in no small part on the commitments we made to deliver highly engaging instruction in the formats documented in our schedule of classes.  

For these reasons and more, I expect all in-person instructors to meet our institutional definition of an in-person class and provide the most engaging experience possible with approximately 3 hours of scheduled classroom time on campus each week (for a 3-credit-hour course) and student engagement with course material, each other, and with the instructor. My expectation is that we will not receive widespread complaints from students who have had their course formats significantly altered on short notice without express prior approval from the deans.

We know this is a moment of significant transition. Students have already moved in, and normally this would be a time of universal excitement. We have an obligation to welcome our students and provide courses in the format we communicated to our students when they enrolled. Science supports our efforts; we know masks and other measures provide significant additional protection for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Research has documented the effectiveness of masks in stemming the spread of COVID-19. In fact, our KU Medical Center colleagues have been wearing masks in a clinical environment throughout the pandemic. Our Operations team continues to make available a variety of resources and personal protection equipment, including pressurized air purifying respirators (PAPRs), for instructors or others who request it. Air purifying units have been added to every KU classroom and more are on order to ensure common areas, such as office suites, also have this protective measure.

As Chancellor Girod and I have said repeatedly since March 2020, we are continuing to monitor the situation, and as we need to, we will adjust our practices together, as a community. We have two exceptional teams advising university leaders on a variety of conditions, and they include some of the region’s best medical and public health experts. Best of all, we have students who understand the gravity of the pandemic and who are responding in the manner we would hope.

We’ve updated our webpage on protocol and guidance for classroom interaction on the Protect KU website to address the most recent questions and concerns. You can also check out the searchable FAQs page for the most recent updates.

Our campus community is ready to participate in the fall semester. We have made changes to our campus environment with safety in mind. We have good estimates that our faculty and staff are more than 75% vaccinated. We will continue to work unwaveringly with our student population to increase their vaccination rates. Please do not lose sight of the very promising outlook we have right in front of us – a caring and responsible student body.  

I wish you all the best as we start our new year and meet our students.

Respectfully,

Barb

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor