Preparing for Fall Semester Instruction

Dear TC Faculty and Staff Colleagues,

As President Gabel highlighted in a systemwide message earlier this afternoon, the Board of Regents has approved a framework for resuming in-person instruction and reopening residence halls and campus services this fall in ways that are consistent with public health guidance and provide flexibility for students, staff, and faculty.

This framework was shaped by the extensive work of the Fall 2020 Scenarios Advisory Team—comprising public health experts, academic leaders, and operational representatives—and informed by consultation with student, staff, and faculty governance groups as well as broader campus input.

We now turn toward implementation—to working together as a campus to carefully and imaginatively plan and schedule a fall curriculum that is richly multi-modal, provides flexibility for instructors and learners, and continues to put health and safety first.

We anticipate that this fall semester will include instruction in a portfolio of modalities as determined by faculty preferences, unit and college needs, and classroom capacity. In-person instruction will conform with physical distancing based on recommendations from public health guidance. Some classes will be offered as online or hybrid, allowing students to fill out their schedules with in-person or distanced instruction, or a combination. As noted in the Regents discussion, each college has committed to offering a fully distanced curriculum for incoming undergraduate students, which will meet the needs of incoming international students who are currently struggling with visas, but which may also be of value to all incoming students who are unable to attend in person for other reasons.

Key Expectations and Principles for Fall 2020 Instruction

I know that many of you are already engaged in fall instructional planning, continuing the thoughtful and enterprising faculty-driven leadership that so successfully delivered on our teaching and learning mission during the spring. In a message I sent last week to Twin Cities faculty and instructional staff, I provided general guidance for how faculty and instructors could begin to plan and develop classes and related components in their preferred modality. In addition to the resources available to support bringing online components to your course and online course design, we will also be updating a central FAQ page to answer the many questions we know are on your minds.

As our collective planning efforts move forward to shape an outstanding curriculum for our students this fall, I offer a summary of key expectations and principles that will guide implementation in the teaching and learning space, aligned with the framework recommended to the Board:

Fall calendar and planned pivot: Systemwide, all UMN campuses are identifying various ways to reduce the travel of students between campus and their family homes. I am grateful for the discussion, input and support from the Senate Committee on Educational Policy and Faculty Senate regarding the Twin Cities and Rochester calendars. Based on feedback from students and our off-campus community, we will retain the existing academic calendar for Fall 2020. Graduate and undergraduate in-person instruction will pivot to distanced education at Thanksgiving, and final exams will take place remotely in the scheduled timeframe. Specific calendars for professional schools are still to be determined.

July-Mester: In advance of fall, and consistent with the Governor’s executive order on summer learning, the Twin Cities campus will initiate a “July-mester”—a six-week term of curated course offerings that will provide in-person learning experiences that comply with current public health guidance and support the necessary de-densification of experiential Fall courses. If you have a course that you feel would be appropriate for inclusion, please talk with your unit head.

Faculty/instructor autonomy: Faculty and instructors, in consultation with their chair/head and subject to capacity constraints on classrooms in accord with physical distancing guidance, will retain autonomy in deciding the preferred modality of their course. We encourage instructors to consider the learning objectives in their course and how these might be best achieved via multiple modalities.

As was mentioned in the message to faculty last week, please work with your unit head to identify the modality that would best suit your course, whether fully in-person, fully online (synchronous or asynchronous), hybrid, or via new modalities such as hy-flex. The modality of the course should be clearly indicated in the Class Schedule so that students can make informed choices about their course selection.

Regardless of the modality, please plan for the accommodations that will be necessary if students fall ill or are quarantined, the planned pivot to distanced instruction at Thanksgiving, the reality of distanced final exams, and the possibility of an early pivot to distanced education in the Fall if public health conditions dictate. We need to work together to create a culture where sick individuals stay home; providing ways for your students to meaningfully participate in their coursework from a distance will be important for that culture.

Classroom capacity and safety: In the upcoming weeks we will be identifying new classroom capacity levels to ensure physical distancing, and new building utilization plans to ensure capacity controls and health/safety protocols consistent with current public health guidance. These plans will be communicated as soon as they are available. Given the capacity constraints, if your course remains in-person it may be assigned an alternate room, and possibly a different day/time, in order to accommodate the required physical distancing.

Health and safety at the center: Across all campus units and programs, we will integrate promotion of healthy habits including daily self-monitoring of temperature and other health indicators. Cloth masks will be provided to all students, staff, and faculty and recommended in specific settings, consistent with the best public health advice at the time. As with other classroom decisions, faculty may require the use of masks in their classes. These requirements must be clearly communicated in the syllabus, along with consequences for violations.

Our institutional public health protocols will include, at a minimum, testing when clinically indicated, isolation for those who are sick, contact tracing, and quarantine for those exposed. A task force on testing and tracing will be recommending whether to engage in additional testing or screening. Consistent with public health guidance, we encourage anyone who may have had a higher risk of exposure, such as from participation in group activities or mass gatherings, to seek COVID-19 testing.

Ongoing attentiveness to public health guidance: We will pivot as future health conditions may require, with an abiding focus on continuing to deliver excellent teaching and learning in ways that ensure the health and safety of the University community.

Shared responsibility: We will ask for your commitment to a “Stop the Spread of COVID-19” campaign. Personal health monitoring, hand-washing, staying home when sick, and observation of social distancing and masking recommendations, will all be required to keep our community healthy and to enable the continuation of in-person instruction.

I invite you to review additional information about these key points in the Board of Regents docket report outlining the recommended framework.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment, leadership, flexibility, and resourcefulness, continuing the extraordinary collective efforts of the past months. The expertise and leadership of our faculty continue to be at the heart of our mission—the primary driver of our research and teaching excellence and the exceptional learning opportunities we offer our students as a globally engaged, comprehensive land-grant research institution.

Sincerely yours,

Rachel T.A. Croson
Executive Vice President and Provost

email sent to all Twin Cities faculty and staff on June 12, 2020