Flexible Policies for Faculty on Instruction and Review (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #3)

The unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 has created numerous hardships, not only for students, but for faculty and staff as well.  I am writing today with an update on temporary policies that have been put in place, or that are currently being developed in collaboration with the Faculty Senate, to provide increased flexibility to faculty in the areas of instruction and faculty review and advancement.

The efforts to move to online instruction, work remotely, and modify schedules to incorporate social distancing are being completed at a rapid pace and on very short notice.  This remarkable work, in the environment of a global pandemic, has never been done before.  The innovation, and “let’s make it work” attitude that faculty have brought forward, is inspiring.  Our top priorities continue to be:

  • Protecting the health and safety of faculty, staff, students, and visitors by reducing the transmission risk associated with COVID-19, and 
  • Ensuring academic continuity so that students continue making progress toward their degrees, and particularly so for students scheduled to graduate this term.

In addition, it is important to note the special challenges faced by faculty, particularly early career faculty, in terms of instruction, research, and extension responsibilities. The approaches described next are intended to provide flexibility and help address these challenges.

Decisions that have been made

In shared consultation and collaboration this week with the Faculty Senate’s Executive Board and Resource, Policies, and Allocations Council, the following decisions have been made.

Tenure clock extensions.The unprecedented and rapidly-changing academic environment created by COVID-19 should not unfairly impact faculty on the tenure track. Therefore, a one-year tenure clock extension will be approved for any faculty member who requests one because their work has been disrupted by this situation.

Pass/Not Pass option for undergraduate courses.Working with the Faculty Senate’s Executive Board, the Senate’s Academic Standards Committee, department chairs cabinet, and college deans, we have implemented a temporary Pass/Not Pass policy, effective immediately, for undergraduate courses that were impacted by the transition to virtual instruction. The Graduate College is currently leading discussions to develop an analogous policy for graduate instruction.

Business (almost) as usual

  • The annual P&T process will continue as scheduled.  Iowa State’s recommendations have been submitted to the Board of Regents, with approval expected during its April 1, 2020 meeting.
  • Term faculty advancement cases are currently under review by my office.  Candidates will be notified of final decisions by April 15.
  • There will be no disruption in the review and decision process for University-level awards. Nomination review committees are completing their work, and we expect to notify awardees by May 15.
  • Preliminary (third-year) reviews are nearing completion at the college level, where final decisions are made. However, the deadline to submit decisions to my office has been extended to June 1.
  • Post-tenure review cases are nearing completion at the department level.  The deadline to submit cases to my office has been extended to June 1.
  • The deadline for submitting Position Responsibility Statement updates in Workday has been extended to August 1.
  • Department chairs and faculty are in the process of annual evaluations for CY2019.  The deadline for submitting final faculty evaluation ratings has been postponed until further notice.

Syllabus changes.  Faculty may modify, at this time, their course syllabi, assignments, and assessments for all courses that were originally intended to be taught in-person this semester, as long as they explain the reasons for those modifications to the students.

Faculty survey. We will survey faculty after the semester to solicit feedback on the transition to virtual instruction, and to gather ideas should such measures ever be needed again.

For faculty researchers

Graduate students

Additional flexibility has been provided to major professors and their graduate students taking preliminary or final oral examinations.  These examinations can now be held in person with the previously-announced social distancing safeguards, or with up to complete remote participation by the examining committee and the student.  Please see the Graduate College’s website for further information.  In addition:

  • Graduate students have increased flexibility when making schedule changes (such as adds, drops, section changes, credit changes, and pass/not pass).  The deadline to add second-half-semester courses has been extended to March 27.
  • The Center for Communication Excellence in the Graduate College is offering virtual services, including individual consultations, peer review groups, peer speaking practice groups, and a Dissertation/Thesis Writing Retreat on April 6.

Items we’re working on now

Course evaluations. Associate Provost Dawn Bratsch-Prince, working with the Faculty Senate’s Executive Board and the Senate’s Faculty Development and Administrative Relations Council, as well as department chairs and college deans, is leading an effort to develop an alternative approach for evaluating courses that were intended to have been taught in-person throughout the semester. 

Recognizing excellence. Both institutionally and in the academic colleges, we will develop awards to recognize extraordinary instructional efforts made this semester by faculty, teaching staff, post docs who teach, and graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants. 

We will get through this together

We know that the many work-related challenges are exacerbated by K-12 school closures, and by the need to care for family and friends during this unprecedented time.

As we move forward, I would like the commend the Faculty Senate and President Jonathan Sturm for their commitment to both faculty and student success. The Senate recently approved a resolution exemplifying our land-grant ideals:

In response to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, the Faculty Senate of Iowa State University assures students, families, and members of the ISU community that we will strive to maintain the highest quality of teaching and learning possible with the recently required changes in delivery of course content, exams, student projects, and other academic interactions between students and faculty. 

ISU faculty are committed to the principle that student instruction is paramount to our mission as faculty. 

Regardless of possible challenges in course content delivery, we resolve that the academic integrity of the courses we teach will not be compromised, and faculty will do everything possible to assist students in the timely completion of coursework and degrees. 

We call upon all members of the ISU community to work together to meet these goals and overcome these temporary challenges. Please bear these further items in mind: 

  • Faculty may need to make changes to course syllabi, especially for courses that have a hands-on experiential learning component (for example, laboratories, studios, etc.), including changes to grading policies to accommodate the required changes in pedagogical methods that are necessitated by the change in course delivery. 
  • While faculty will work hard to continue to provide course materials and learning opportunities for students under these difficult circumstances, success also requires that students take responsibility for their own learning. 
  • We remind all members of the community of ISU’s code of ethics, especially the principles concerning academic integrity. 

Again, thank you for everything you are doing for our students and each other.  I and my academic leadership team stand ready to support you as we move forward.