December 22, 2021 at 1:45 p.m.
Follow-up on Plan for Interim
To St. Olaf College faculty
From Provost and Dean Marci Sortor
Dear Faculty and Academic Staff Colleagues:
I’d like to follow up on Enoch Blazis’s COVID Response Team message with some guidance for the Academic Division. For most faculty members, the PLT decision means that you will be teaching your courses online. For those teaching courses with an intensive hands-on element (e.g., science labs and certain performing/fine arts courses), your Associate Dean will be contacting you to determine whether your course should be offered in-person. For staff members, your supervisor will provide guidance as to whether you should work remotely or continue to work on-campus. Because some courses will continue in-person, staff members who directly support those courses should expect to work on campus at least part of the time. Similarly, since we will continue to have many students on campus, those in offices with a “public-facing” function will need to revisit their staffing plans. Answers to questions that you may have appear at the end of this message.
The PLT decision is based on what the COVID-19 Response Team currently understands about the omicron variant of the virus, its transmissibility, and its severity. It takes into consideration the college’s consulting epidemiologist’s guidance regarding the latest variant and how COVID-19spreads on campus. It includes consideration of the distinctive circumstances of the Interim term, the fact that the current Interim and Spring courses are fixed, as well as an acute awareness of the fact that any change to the plans for the Interim term presents challenges to members of the faculty and staff as well as to students and their families. Last, the decision is informed by the goal to de-densify the campus while we ready ourselves for being fully in-person in the spring.
I appreciate that this decision will present difficulties and frustrations at a time when we are finishing up the fall semester’s work and looking forward to the holidays. I wish that we had a chance to catch our breath before the Interim begins. However, I think this decision is a necessary approach, given what we understand about the latest variant and the circumstances presented by the Interim term. The COVID-19 Response Team has had to weigh many factors: from rapidly-evolving information about the nature of the omicron variant, to counting beds, to contemplating the ways in which we will quickly have to pivot in the way we do our work. I commend the team for its expertise in managing a broad scope of work and moving us forward as quickly as possible.
Let’s be patient with each other as we make this pivot, and keep in mind that your colleagues are doing their best in a short amount of time.
Questions that you may have
How will we determine whether a course can be taught in-person? It is essential that you work with your Associate Dean to confirm whether your course must be taught in person. Your Associate Dean has already given some thought to which courses are likely to be very difficult or impossible to offer online because they entail hands-on experiences. (Some studio art courses and many lab courses fall into this category.) If your course falls into this category, your Associate Dean will reach out to you very soon to discuss whether it should be taught in person. You are also encouraged to reach out to your Associate Dean if you believe that you are teaching a course that must be taught in person. Your Associate Dean is likely to ask you about ways in which the course could be offered remotely. Your Associate Dean and I will work quickly to provide you a response as quickly as we can. Please keep in mind that we are working to de-densify the campus so as to allow those courses that absolutely must be taught in-person to continue safely.
There’s little time between now and the start of Interim. Will students know what to do? The Associate Deans will be working with the Registrar to get information into SIS as to whether each course will be online or in person. The Registrar will also inform Student Life as to whether students are enrolled in in-person or online courses. Professors should reach out to their students to confirm whether their course will be in-person or online.
If I am teaching an online course, can I do so from campus? Yes! You may teach from your office or from a classroom.
Do you have guidance on whether to teach online synchronously or asynchronously? Choose the format that you think best suits your course and that you feel you can most effectively use. We are not expecting professors to offer two versions of a course (one online and one in person) or teach a hybrid course.
Are we shutting the campus as we did last January? No. We are working to de-densify the campus, primarily by moving classes and students online. We are not requiring staff and faculty members to work from home, and we will have more students on campus this Interim term than in January 2021. For each unit or office, determining the level of staff presence on campus will need to take account of that fact.
What does de-densifying the campus mean for me if I am teaching or supporting an in-person course? Based on our experience from this past year, COVID transmission among college students takes place in settings outside of the classroom. De-densifying the campus reduces the number of contacts that students (and faculty and staff members) have, which helps keep the remaining on-campus activities safe. You can expect a somewhat reduced number of people working on campus. If your course or research depends on support by staff colleagues, you will want to check with them or with your department chair as to their availability.
The courses in my department entail field work or a practicum or clinical experience. What does this mean for my courses? In most cases, these kinds of courses are additionally complicated, because they are affected by the safety measures of on-site providers/partners as well as being governed by our own safety protocols. In most cases, chairs of departments with these kinds of courses have previously identified alternatives in case in-person experiences are interrupted. If you are not sure if this is the case for your course or need planning assistance, check with your chair.
What happens if students in my course fall ill? As in the past, students who feel ill should avoid exposing others. On-campus testing will be available for people with COVID-like symptoms. Students who test positive for COVID-19 will undergo isolation. They may feel well enough to continue their studies remotely, however. Should you have a student who falls ill–whether you are teaching online or in person–you should work with them on a plan to make up class work. Alert a class dean in Student Life if your student is in danger of missing too many classes (or class activities) to finish the course successfully. We are not expecting professors to offer two versions of a course (one online and one in person) or teach a hybrid course.
What about faculty members if they get sick or test positive for COVID? If you feel sufficiently well to teach, you are welcome to teach remotely. If you are unable to teach your class, you should alert your chair (or Associate Dean, if the chair is unavailable). On-campus testing will be available for people with COVID-like symptoms. Whether you are teaching online or in-person, if you do test positive for COVID-19, be sure to fill out the COVID-19 reporting form.
Do we have to physically distance? For a highly-vaccinated population like ours at St. Olaf, physical distancing is not required, but is encouraged when possible. Vaccination, masking, and good ventilation are the most effective measures. you.
What if I am slated to lead an off-campus study course this Interim term? Jodi Malmgren has been working closely with those who were scheduled to lead an off-campus study course. Most of these have been canceled, but there are a small number of courses that may be able to continue as planned. Leaders of these courses should remain in contact with the IOS office between now and the beginning of their courses. For those leading semester-long programs in the spring, IOS will continue to monitor the situation abroad and keep in touch.
What kind of support can I anticipate for moving my course online? The libraries and IT will be ready to help. Please keep in mind that–like the rest of us–the LITS team will be juggling many tasks and may be traveling on holiday for some of this period. So, faculty members should help “triage” things by making clear what materials or other support they will need immediately in week 1 versus in subsequent weeks. For technology assistance, to streamline the process and to make sure that Ben and his team are not bogged down in email exchanges, please use the Help Desk ticket system.
I depend on students to perform essential work, such as helping maintain plants or cultures, tutoring, or helping with research. It is possible that the students who you expected to work in your office or department this Interim will now be studying remotely. Because we are working to reduce the number of people on campus during Interim, it is unlikely that a student will be allowed to stay on campus only for the purposes of work. You or your chair should check with student workers to determine whether they will be on campus. Human Resources will work with the students who do remain on campus to help you fill student work positions.
How will moving online affect my annual performance review or any review of my teaching or my work? The steps we are taking are designed to maximize our ability to return to a fully in-person college experience in the Spring semester. Most offices and units on campus should revisit the expectations and practices developed in 2020/21. Faculty members whose Interim course might be included in a future performance review may want to revisit the guidance regarding faculty evaluation in light of the pandemic.
Support for students. CAAS, the libraries and IT, SSS and SSS-D will continue their operations in both in-person and online mode. IT will identify students who may need additional technology support to study off-campus, but please be flexible with students in the first week of classes as we work with individual students who may have difficulty getting online.