Faculty Update [June 10]

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

These are difficult times. We, as a country, are confronting our 400-year-old history of racial and social injustice as we mourn the tragic death of George Floyd and so many other Black Americans at the hands of police and vow to realize a nation and a world where social and economic justice may at long last prevail. We at Wake Forest are confronting the realities of our own institution’s racist past and present in order to make a better future for every member of our community. Though it may be harder to remember in times like these, the outstanding engaged liberal arts education you provide for our students makes that brighter, more equitable, more just future possible. Despite the very real logistical challenges of COVID-19, therefore, we remain committed to our mission of educating the whole person and pursuing Inclusive Excellence.

On May 15, President Hatch stated that Wake Forest would return to on-campus instruction this fall assuming conditions allow. In that message, he outlined a scenario planning process that would address how to return to in-person classes and other campus operations. This Friday, June 12, President Hatch will update the entire Wake Forest community on the university’s current plans for Fall 2020. As conveyed in our recent all-faculty forums, all planning groups are prioritizing the health, safety and wellbeing of every member of our community and the communities around us.

I am writing to share the academic parameters and other key elements of this plan with you in advance of that message. Ensuring the delivery of rich learning opportunities this fall for all our students, despite the challenges we face, will depend on you. Therefore, our faculty should be the first to know the direction we are inclined to head, pending further review and discussion, in order to best fulfill our academic mission.

Prioritizing Campus Health and Safety

Prioritizing the health and safety of the entire university community is the institution’s top priority. WFU will implement infection control policies and protocols in compliance with OSHA Standards, North Carolina Executive Orders, and recommendations of federal, state and local public health officials, along with guidance from Higher Education related sources (such as ACHA and NCAA), to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Public Health guidelines necessitate “de-densifying” our campus in multiple ways. The number of students residing on campus will be reduced from the current norm by shifting some students to off-campus living.  Access to common spaces (such as the dining halls, library, and gyms) will be controlled through a combination of scheduling and cohorting.  All faculty and staff who can complete their work remotely will be asked to do so. To maintain the prioritization of our community’s health, we expect we will suspend all academic and departmental events and extra-curricular activities involving large gatherings.

Accommodating Remote Work

We will seek to accommodate faculty critical needs (family health concerns, childcare availability, other personal concerns. etc.) that necessitate working remotely. Given that the Human Resources Remote Work Survey indicated 59% of faculty scheduled to teach in the fall would “probably not” or “definitely not” seek remote work accommodations, and that social distancing guidelines reduce classroom availability, we believe faculty preferring remote work, in addition to those qualifying for personal health accommodations, will be able to be supported as we build our menu of course offerings in multiple modalities.

New Academic Calendar

The plan for the Fall Undergraduate Calendar at this time is to begin the semester on Wednesday, August 26.  There will be no Fall Break. On-campus instruction will end Tuesday, November 24, before the Thanksgiving holiday, with at least one week of remote delivery of classes immediately following Thanksgiving (from Nov. 30 – Dec. 4). The two week period from Dec. 7 – 18 is scheduled for remote delivery of exams and/or make-up instructional days. Faculty will have up to two weeks to continue remote teaching after Thanksgiving, followed by the delivery of remote exams. This calendar was approved unanimously by the Committee on Academic Affairs (CAA) on Friday, June 5, 2020.

Fall Course Offerings

Fall course offerings will be based on multiple factors that include health and safety measures first and foremost, followed by faculty availability, student preference, the nature of the courses, and more limited than normal classroom capacity due to social distancing needs. Given this array of considerations, these offerings will likely need to be a mix of in-person, blended and online courses.  Each of the Departments/Programs in the College will determine the best fall course arrangements across these various delivery modes.  We will seek to preserve as much of the current course schedule as possible. We hope to have the updated registration schedule released before the end of this month.

Professional Development for Faculty

Because of you, Wake Forest College is known for its exceptional teacher-scholars who are committed to outstanding pedagogy and amazing student-faculty engagement.  As we look to Fall 2020, we recognize we must fully support you in adapting the thoughtful, wonderful work you are already doing to the blended and online modalities we will need to provide our students in addition to, or in place of, our usual face-to-face courses given COVID-19 constraints. The university is providing an exciting menu of opportunities to support preparation for online and blended course development this summer through the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, the Office of Online Education, the ITGs, the ZSR Library’s Digital Initiatives Team, and the IS Academic Technology Team (see the comprehensive set of support options).

Just as importantly these teams are rolling out an innovative program of Peer-to-Peer Learning Communities to help all faculty who are teaching this fall transition to new modalities while preserving the unique character and excellence of the Wake Forest teaching and learning experience. We have been inspired by faculty excitement surrounding this new program, which is unlike any other in the country, because of its scale and because it turns on the knowledge and partnership of our terrific faculty. The College, along with all the other schools, is expecting all faculty teaching Fall 2020 (incoming new faculty, tenure-stream faculty, teaching professionals, visiting professors, adjuncts, postdoctoral fellows, part-time instructors, and staff who teach) to take advantage of this extraordinary program, for which they will receive a stipend upon completion.

Faculty exempted from this opportunity will include those faculty who are: on leave this fall/this coming academic year; already teaching online courses; have received a BOLD grant to prepare an online course; have taken the 3 week online module training required for summer school; have pursued online training or taught online courses outside Wake Forest; or have the support of their chair in consultation with the dean to be exempted for another appropriate reason.  Faculty who are exempted per any of the above reasons but want to enroll in the Peer-to-Peer Learning Communities Program anyway are welcome to do so and will receive the stipend upon completion.

Current Campus Availability

The campus remains closed to faculty and staff, with some exceptions. Faculty and staff engaged in research that necessitates campus facilities will soon gain limited access to their space under specific safety constraints, in a phased campus reopening effort.  All other faculty needing temporary one-time access to campus may make a request here: One-Time Access Request Form.

The ZSR Library has just resumed pick-up service of library materials in the 24-hour study room. Details on how to request materials as well as access to campus can be found here. Please wait to request access to campus until you get the email confirming your materials are ready for pick-up. The library has a skeleton crew, and will not  have folks working on weekends. Service may take a little longer under these conditions.

I hope these broad anticipatory outlines help your own planning for the fall semester.  As we begin implementing our staffing, calendar and course arrangements for the fall in the weeks ahead, know that the scenario planning team will  complete an “online only” fall semester plan to have at the ready if changing conditions necessitate it.  This summer’s Peer-to-Peer Learning Communities is designed to support course preparation for all these potential scenarios–a modified Face-to-Face plan, with its mix of in-person, blended and online modalities; a fully online semester; and a switch mid-semester to online delivery.

I thank you for the ways so many of you have already been contributing to this planning work. The next steps of implementation will take all of our imagination and effort, even as we all know that our plans could be subject to change. As we work to reopen campus, your flexibility and partnership will be essential for ensuring the health and wellbeing of every member of our community. I know that the greater good of providing our students with an extraordinary education, imbued with our spirit of Pro Humanitate, inspires you despite these challenges. Please take good care of yourselves, stay healthy and well, and thank you for working hard to make Wake Forest a great university and a great community for all its members in the midst of all our challenges.

Michele Gillespie