St. Olaf College | COVID-19

March 4, 2020 at 12:50 p.m.

To the faculty and academic staff of St. Olaf CollegeFrom Marci Sortor, Provost And Dean Of The College

Dear Faculty and Academic Staff Colleagues:

As you know, President Anderson has formed a Coronavirus Response Team that is charged with developing a plan for the college, consulting with units on campus as part of the planning process and ensure that the plan is informed by CDC advisory notices and warnings, and developing a communication strategy (see David’s February 27 email). Mary Walczak, Associate Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is leading this group. Of course, at present no one—not national and international experts in epidemiology, let alone leaders and community members at colleges like St. Olaf—can predict the rate and extent of the spread of the coronavirus-19 strain or its severity. What we can do is be ready for its arrival.

The Deans Council, combined with Valeng Cha (Director of GFCR) Kathy Glampe (Director of CAAS), Brian Greening (Director of SSS), Roberta Lembke (CIO for Libraries and IT), and Ericka Peterson (Registrar), met on Monday with Mary for a preliminary discussion of critical operations for the Academic Division. We can expect guidance from the Coronavirus Response Team in the days ahead. In the meantime, the deans and directors listed above advised that our areas should begin now thinking about preparations. What follows are some preliminary guidelines for how we should prepare to sustain the academic program in the case of disruption, whether the disruption is sporadic and limited or widespread.

This is not the first time that St. Olaf has readied itself for a potential health crisis and related disruptions to the academic program. In 2007-08, we prepared for a potential outbreak of the Avian Flu. Since that time, we have expanded our abilities to use technology to teach and learn remotely. Most faculty members now have laptops. The college’s internet capacity, digital resources and IT staff can fully support remote teaching and learning. Whether an entire course needs to go on-line or a handful of students need an alternative to attending class for a few weeks, the college’s technology infrastructure is robust enough to handle it.

We advise the following first steps. While some of the steps pertain mostly to either faculty or staff members, there is much overlap in what we do to offer the academic program. So, please read through all of these steps carefully:

  • For your area or department or program, identify someone who can take over if you get ill. Make sure that documentation of what you are doing is up-to-date so that they can step in if necessary. If you are teaching a course, give that person access to your Moodle site. Identify those functions for which no one seems able to step in for a time, and alert your supervisor or Associate Dean.
  • Identify what you could do remotely. For offices and functions that are “outward facing,” consider how you could maintain the quality of your interactions if these could not be face-to-face.
  • Review your course plans and Moodle presence to ensure that they are up-to-date and fully functional. As much as you can, make sure that materials that you might distribute in other ways go onto Moodle or are available through e-reserves.
  • Consider how you would teach if you needed to take your courses fully remote for a few weeks or for several. Could things proceed exactly as they would in-class, or would you need to think through class exercises and assignments? Could you support a mixture of on-line or asynchronous and instruction? Also, consider how you could support individual students who might need to study with you remotely because they are quarantined.
  • If your course has penalties for absences, consider how or whether to make accommodations for students who are ill or quarantined.
  • If your courses have elements that require students’ physical presence (such as labs, student teaching, nursing clinicals, dance and music performance, and studio courses), give some thought about which elements might have a remote option.
  • Give your chair/program director access to your course Moodle sites so that these can be reassigned if you fall ill.
  • Alert your chair if you must miss class.
  • IT will be reviewing who has laptops. If you do not have a laptop or a home computer, look for IT communications regarding options.
  • IT will be offering information about making sure that your computer/laptop has video software and will make training available regarding its use. Many AAAs have skills in this area and you should consider going first to them for your questions about using software.

We also advise that you be mindful of the fear and stigma surrounding COVID-19, especially in these early days, when information is patchy. This CDC page provides information and guidance. The sooner we can ready ourselves in the ways outlined above, the more able we will be to respond to a variety of possible disruptions. As the Coronavirus Response Team develops a plan for the college, and as we learn more about this disease and how best to respond to it, the CRT will communicate with you about steps that we should take to prepare ourselves and the college.