July 31, 2020 at 4:17 p.m.
To St. Olaf College faculty and staffFrom David Anderson, President
I hope this message finds you and those you love well. I’m writing to give you a heads up that, in response to the changing conditions nationally and in Minnesota, we are considering some modifications to our plan to open fully in person this fall. We will be discussing them with the Board on Monday, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts at the staff and faculty zoom next Wednesday.
Throughout our planning during the pandemic we have prioritized the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty. Our next priority has been to deliver on our mission as best we can under the circumstances imposed by the pandemic, so that our students receive the quality education they both want and deserve. Our third priority has been, since there are many aspects of our environment that we cannot control, to be flexible, nimble, and resourceful while reacting to changes in the behavior of the virus.
The poll of faculty that we recently conducted with the Faculty Life Committee showed that with a 61% response rate slightly more than half of the respondents (53%) would prefer to teach online, about one third prefer (35%) hybrid instruction, and 8.5 percent felt they did not have enough information available to make a decision.
We also polled returning students. With an 80% response rate, 66% of returning students would prefer in-person/hybrid learning this fall while 22% would prefer remote online learning. The rest wanted more information or did not express a preference.
While there is a mismatch between what students and faculty would prefer, we are considering turning that mismatch into an opportunity. Because we had planned for an in-person opening, our online offerings for this fall are limited. Clearly, there is capacity to offer more online courses, given the desire of more than half of the faculty to teach online. But we also remain ready and able to open campus this August to in-person/hybrid learning. So, we are currently modeling a fall semester where there are additional online courses available so that students who wish to learn remotely can, while at the same time retaining the option for students to return to campus for in-person/hybrid learning. At the same time, there would be more opportunities for faculty who prefer to teach online to do so. In this scenario, some of our on-campus students would likely need to have some component of their courses on-line, but they would still have all of the advantages of campus life versus remaining at home for another semester.
I want to be careful not to overstate this scenario we are considering. It does not envision a full on-line version of the fall course schedule. Nor does it promise an entirely in-person learning experience for those who want it. We will still need to offer more in-person/hybrid courses than online courses. We still need to figure out whether we can provide the right mix of courses in all of the formats so that students can reasonably progress towards their degree. Our Provost, the Associate Deans, and Department Chairs will start working on that now. Nevertheless, this scenario would likely have the advantage of giving students and faculty more choice in their learning environment while also keeping the campus open and vibrant.
We are considering some other modifications to our plan to open that will provide even more protection for health and safety in addition to what is already in place. These include additional consideration around our COVID-19 testing/quarantining/contact tracing protocols.
I know that you are anxious for certainty about the fall. So are we. Our goal is to be back in touch by the end of next week with updates on the next steps.