Aug. 2: Preparing for fall semester

Dear Faculty and Academic Staff:

I write this note to you from the Hannah Administration Building, overlooking a fast-rushing Red Cedar River. I occasionally see people walking along the footpath, and I am eagerly awaiting the time when many more are part of the human stream, greeting colleagues and friends with a renewed sense of joy. The deans and I met in person for the first time last week, and the energy of the room was intellectually stimulating and personally thrilling, even from behind our masks. Together, the deans and I discussed plans to support all of you – our faculty and academic staff – and the excitement we share for the repopulation of campus with the opportunity for renewal of those human interactions, coupled with the various changes that are resetting the dials of MSU and higher education. In this first note of the academic season, I want to provide a few of my thoughts on those three topics, namely, our repopulation of campus, on the academic resets, and on the renewal that awaits all of us.

Our work together is in anticipation of an energized incoming undergraduate and advanced degree-student class, as well as second-year students who have not yet been with us in person. The Office of the Provost and our college deans’ offices have been mobilizing resources across all areas of campus in support of you and the entire community of learners and scholars. In so doing, we are working together toward our shared goals of physical and intellectual well-being for all.  

Indeed, the vaccine and mask requirements announced by President Stanley last Friday were put in place to help ensure our shared goals of physical and intellectual well-being, so we can be in person, together, this fall. As such, they are welcome and enabling steps. While these measures will not eliminate cases of COVID-10 on campus, with vaccination and masking we will be limiting the virus’ spread and the impact of significant disease, to allow us to open with greater normalcy. Our aim is to reduce the possibility of major outbreaks and illness – minimizing, not eliminating risks.

As you might imagine, myriad questions about logistics accompany these two new requirements. Leaders from across campus are absolutely committed to addressing these questions and providing added clarity about collective and individual circumstances. The Together We Will website will continue to be MSU’s central repository for the most current information relevant to the campus community. Please visit the site in the coming weeks, including its FAQs, which will be updated throughout the month of August. Additionally, the Office of the University Ombudsperson will be releasing FAQs that provide additional guidance to students, faculty, and staff shortly.


Repopulate

We find ourselves resting on a critical fulcrum point in the COVID-19 pandemic. President Stanley’s Friday announcement of a mask and vaccine requirement for all faculty, staff, and students is a prudent decision based on the emergence of the coronavirus delta variant and recommendations announced by the CDC one day earlier. Specifically:

  1. All individuals are required to wear masks indoors beginning August 1 and for at least the first few weeks of the fall semester. This includes in all campus buildings and other MSU facilities.
  2. All students, faculty, and staff are required to have started the vaccination process by receiving at least one dose of a single-dose or two-dose FDA-authorized or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine by August 31. Exceptions for medical or religious reasons can be found on our vaccine information website.
  3. All members of the MSU community can receive a free COVID-19 vaccination through the MSU Health Care Pharmacy. For those not in the East Lansing area, please visit vaccines.gov to find a U.S. vaccination site near you.
  4. International students and scholars should seek out a WHO-approved vaccine and will be provided access to FDA-approved vaccines upon arrival.

Our fall graduation plans for the class of 2020 will proceed as planned, with a mask mandate for our graduates, families, and guests. More information regarding the September graduation ceremonies can be found at https://commencement.msu.edu/.

Human Resources provides a Returning to On-site Work webpage that includes Work-Related Frequently Asked Questions that address health and safety. Please refer to that page for helpful information on additional questions you may have.

Please reach out with questions you may have as we all balance the physical and intellectual health of the campus community.


Renew

Professional Development Opportunities

A number of workshops have been put in place to support faculty and academic staff in providing instruction in blended, hybrid, and online teaching environments. Please consider participating in any of the below opportunities if you have not already done so.

  • The ASPIRE (Asynchronous Program for Instructional Readiness) workshop was created to help you better prepare to teach online. ASPIRE is entirely self-paced and will guide you through the process to develop an online version of your course. Since there is no one way to develop an online course or teach online, our goal is to help you make informed choices based on your own needs and contexts. Please enroll in ASPIRE if you have not yet done so.
  • The 2021 Blended Teaching Workshop was created to help you prepare to teach a blended or hybrid course. It is entirely asynchronous and self-paced and is focused on how you can make the most of in-person contact time and an online environment. We will help you focus your blended or hybrid course on the student experience and your learning objectives in order to best help your students reach their goals. Our goal is to help you make informed choices based on your context. Self-enrollment is available for 2021 Blended Teaching Workshop.
  • August 2021 Online Workshops from MSU IT are focused on supporting and orienting faculty to the main educational technologies at MSU. We are hosting eight workshops for faculty, four workshops for undergraduate students, and two office hours sessions.
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant Fall 2021 Virtual Training and Orientation
    Graduate teaching assistants often provide undergraduate students their first exposure to core courses in a wide variety of disciplines. As such, graduate teaching assistants play a crucial role in MSU’s efforts to ensure academic success among the institution’s undergraduate population. Professional development opportunities for Graduate Teaching Assistants have been organized with the GTA experience in mind. August opportunities include International GTA Orientation (August 18), New GTA Institute (August 19) and Pedagogy Workshops (August 20). Register here for any or all of these workshops.


Classroom Preparation

All movable seating that was removed for social distancing in university instructional spaces will be returned by August 15. All banding of fixed seating in university instructional spaces has been removed.

To allow for maximum flexibility of instruction, camera installation in university classrooms is 97% complete, with 100% readiness by the start of classes. Hyflex (hybrid camera with enhanced speaker and sound system) installation continues, and we are hopeful to have six pilot rooms completed and ready for fall semester.

Resources in support of the use of hybrid technologies appear below.


Syllabus Preparation

The Keep Teaching website provides Syllabus Support to assist instructors in preparing inclusive and comprehensive syllabi. Please consult these resources as you create your syllabi for fall semester.

Three policies relevant to faculty and academic staff may also assist with syllabus prep: the Code of Teaching Responsibility, policies in support of Student Accommodations, as well as the policy related to Faculty Rights and Responsibilities. Please familiarize yourself with these policies and incorporate them into your instruction and interactions with students.


Religious Observance Policy 

As fall semester begins, members of our community may be observing religious holidays. Information on MSU’s Religious Observance Policy can be found on the Office of the Registrar’s website at https://reg.msu.edu/ROInfo/Notices/ReligiousPolicy.aspx, which includes resources for planning for religious holidays. It bears remembering that it has always been the policy of the University to permit students and faculty/academic staff to observe those holidays set aside by their chosen religious faith.

Faculty and staff should be sensitive to the observance of these holidays so that students who may absent themselves from class on these days are not disadvantaged. It is the responsibility of those students who wish to be absent to make arrangements in advance with their instructors. Without a simple and dignified way to determine the validity of individual claims, the claim of a religious conflict should be accepted at face value. Please consider the ways in which these planned absences can be fairly and respectfully accommodated. 
 
As an institution, we are committed to the value of inclusion, and our practices must conform to our commitments. I am confident that working together we can continue to build an environment that supports and fosters diversity and inclusiveness.

Reset

The past academic year represented an upheaval of unprecedented magnitude. Returning to in-person work will be a major adjustment for many and require a good degree of deliberate attention and care. We learned a great deal last year about how to navigate challenges, how to find innovative solutions that sustain academic progress, and how to support one another during difficult times. Dr. Angela Hall, an associate professor in the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, recently shared some tips for making the transition from remote to in-person work. They include practical, everyday advice you may find helpful as you prepare for fall semester.

As we come together this fall, I ask you to continue extending grace and empathy to your colleagues, your students, and yourselves, focusing always on our shared humanity and respect for one another. As we move into this new year, we are reminded of the importance of embracing each other as we remind ourselves of the individual dignity afforded our fellow humans and the collective good that emerges from pluralistic individuals working in the community. There will be moments of stress, and there will be moments of competing perspectives, but with the grace and empathy we displayed last year and a renewed focus on our shared humanity and individual dignity, we will create an environment for success. 

Thank you for all that you have done, and continue to do, to promote academic excellence and support student success.

 

My best,

Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

MSU Foundation Professor