Thank you for your ongoing efforts to conduct remotely all teaching, service, and, where possible, research activities during the current global health crisis. You have demonstrated extraordinary commitment and resilience, and I am grateful for your work to deliver synchronous remote instruction to our students while fulfilling other faculty responsibilities.
I know you have many questions and concerns during this challenging time, so I want to share the following information with you to address several of them.
Synchronous Remote Instruction
I recognize that the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shift from classroom to remote instruction has placed extraordinary demands on faculty members’ time. Thank you for all you are doing to enable our students to continue their coursework during this troubling time.
Synchronous teaching – having instructors remotely engage with learners during their regularly scheduled class times – is in our students’ best interest. The real-time component gives students and faculty a familiar context that maintains a course’s pace, provides invaluable opportunities for faculty-student interaction, and helps to alleviate stress and anxiety. This also reduces pressure on faculty to adapt pedagogies, assignments, and syllabi designed for in-person classes rather than redesign the course for an asynchronous fully online context, where asynchronous interaction is built into the course.
Institutional data shows that most undergraduate students enroll in courses held entirely in physical classrooms. Because that mode of instruction has been suspended, we want our students now learning remotely to continue to have the structure that regular, substantive engagement and connections with their instructors and peers provides. Further disruption or changes in course delivery patterns could hinder student learning and their ability to finish the semester successfully.
In turn, undergraduate courses should remain synchronous through the end of the semester. As President Barron shared in his recent update to the Board of Trustees, having faculty hold classes at the same times as they would in person allows Penn State to “deliver an education and get people to the finish line where their credits count for the semester and they are able to graduate.”
Guidance for graduate students, including for research and teaching activities, is available atgradschool.psu.edu/covid19. Information provided on this site will be updated as needed. Professional school students (i.e., Penn State Law, Dickinson Law, and the College of Medicine) should consult with their Deans about guidance specific to these units.
Extenuating circumstances (i.e., child or elder care) may prevent some faculty from offering consistent synchronous instruction. If this applies to you, contact the administrators of your academic unit to discuss accommodations or alternative arrangements. PHEAA’s recent ruling to relax their rules around online instruction provide us with some flexibility and we will use that to accommodate those instructors who are finding themselves in a difficult position due to multiple competing demands.
Penn State’s University Faculty Senate held a special session on March 17, 2020 during which it approved a resolution asking the University administration to consider allowing students to request that Spring 2020 semester courses be graded as satisfactory (SA) or unsatisfactory (UN), rather than with a letter grade.
A committee of administrators and faculty leaders has been charged with developing guidance on a wide range of issues pertaining to undergraduate instruction, including the development of a proposal to create a temporary replacement for “G-6: Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory” in the Academic Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual that would relax the requirements of Policy 49-60 during this challenging time for students. This issue is a complex one, and we will be guided by our commitment to our students’ success. The committee expects to circulate draft policies and procedures by Wednesday, March 25.
We recognize that units vary, and that grading approaches may need to be somewhat different among undergraduates, graduate students, law students, and medical students.
Student Evaluations (SRTEs)
During its special session, Penn State’s University Faculty Senate approved a second resolution asking the administration to consider allowing formative rather than summative use of SRTE data. A committee composed of senior administrators and Senate leaders has been charged with developing guidance on a wide range of faculty issues, including the administration of course evaluations in spring 2020. This committee, with representation from Senate leadership and key administrative offices, has crafted guidance that acknowledges the challenges of rapidly transitioning to remote instruction and reflects the University’s commitment to faculty success.
Consistent with the resolution, SRTEs will be administered this semester, and the results will be made available to faculty members for their review. Administrators will not receive copies of the results, and the results will not be used for evaluative purposes.
Changes in Timing of Promotion and Tenure Decisions
Given the unprecedented challenges we face this semester, it is unreasonable to expect that you can make normal progress in all areas of faculty activity: teaching, research, and service.
The cancellation of conferences and other research-related travel, reduced access to labs, the suspension of research involving human subjects, and other factors understandably impede your scholarly activity. Many of you also are balancing many professional and personal demands during this period of uncertainty.
In acknowledgement of the COVID-19 crisis and its extraordinary impacts on our faculty, Penn State will be extending the provisional tenure period starting with the 2020-2021 academic year for all faculty in their pre-tenure probationary period, as defined in University policy AC23. This stay in the provisional tenure period will not count toward the two-stay limit. Any faculty members wanting to go through the tenure process “on time” (i.e., at their previously scheduled time) may do so without requesting permission for early-tenure consideration. We will provide more guidance in the coming weeks regarding the implementation of this change.
Reviews for tenure and promotion that are already in progress will continue as scheduled because they are based on work completed before the COVID-19 crisis.
Guidance will be forthcoming about how faculty should be evaluated for the calendar year 2020 given the unusual circumstances this year, including recommended criteria to include and provide assessments of in individuals’ annual reviews.
Resources for Faculty
Multiple resources are available to help you succeed during this challenging time. Visit remoteteaching.psu.edu for tips, training, and frequently asked questions related to teaching our students remotely. For comprehensive updates about the COVID-19 crisis and its impacts at the University, visit sites.psu.edu/virusinfo andnews.psu.edu/tag/coronavirus.
Your efforts to carry on with educating and serving our students are highly recognized and appreciated. Simultaneously, I encourage you to pace yourselves with respect to research and service. You may rededicate your full commitments in these areas when the current crisis resolves.
I hope this information answers many of your questions and addresses specific concerns you may have. Ultimately, please know that your health and safety are paramount concerns to the University and to me personally. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.
Together, we will get through these trying times, and I appreciate all that you are doing to accomplish that goal while continuing to work towards furthering the University’s mission.
Thank you for all that you do. We know you may have many more questions. We’ll be in regular contact, but feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org if there is something pressing for which you need guidance.
Nicholas P. Jones
Executive Vice President and Provost