Dear Faculty and Instructional Staff,
Well, it’s week 3 (who’s counting?). We are now in middle innings, middle miles of a half- or full marathon, or whatever metaphor works for you. We’ve moved past start-up panic—and maybe initial excitement—and are not yet close to the finish. Whatever you’re feeling at the moment, I really appreciate your continued creativity and energy. Our students are very good at detecting our enthusiasm and attitudes, and often mirror them. What you say and do matters a great deal. Thanks for setting the tone.
Your students may also feel they are in the “middle innings.” As I mentioned in my last note, a personal note of encouragement can mean a lot. When we see a finish line, we can encourage ourselves; when there is still a ways to go and the finish line isn’t in sight yet, encouragement from the community, and from faculty as leaders of that community, is priceless. Graduate students who are out of course work—finishing theses or working on dissertations—might feel especially disconnected, and I encourage you to reach out to them on a regular basis.
I mentioned in my last message the issue of exam integrity, and that remains a concern. CITL has prepared a good range of recommendations for faculty, from techniques for creating and administering traditional-style exams remotely to suggested methods of assessing student learning that may be less susceptible to academic dishonesty. I realize we have limited ability to proctor exams as we might in a live setting, given the limitations of equipment and online availability. My personal view is that alternative approaches to evaluating student learning may be the best approach. I understand there are logistical issues for large classes and complex grading schemes, but I encourage you to get a s creative as possible. You might find that a different approach works just as well, or perhaps even better. Look for an email from CITL on an upcoming session for faculty who are seeking guidance on developing alternate approaches to assessing student learning.
Faculty are not alone in their concerns about academic integrity. Last week the Student Senate held a forum for undergraduate students, during which Pat Johnson, Jennifer Jensen and I responded to questions. Among the concerns students raised were the same exam integrity issues expressed by many faculty. Students who feel they are following the rules worry they are at a disadvantage if others do not. I ask that you regularly encourage students to live up to our expectations of integrity in exams and other assignments. As I told undergraduate students in my message to them last week, having integrity will be important in their success beyond Lehigh. Now is an excellent time to practice that. You might also ask your students, if possible, what a fair and effective assessment of their lear ning might look like. They may have valuable insights.
Given the abrupt change in course delivery mode, we recognize that the results of traditional student evaluations (“Course Evaluations”) this semester may not be comparable with past or future year evaluations. I do think it is important to ask students about their experiences, however. We are working on a brief, perhaps short-answer alternative for student evaluations that we can use this semester, but at this point are not planning to use the “normal” list of questions and numerical scores. These course evaluations would not be a part of a faculty member’s formal dossier; instead, they would serve as a means of formative assessment, and as such could be provided to the faculty member for her/his use.
We are also looking at final exam schedules. My preference would be to keep as close to the normal schedule as possible, though we will need to recognize that our students are spread across the country and around the world. Synchronous exams may put an almost unfair burden on some to perform at their best at odd hours of the day or night, so we may limit exam hours and will certainly rely on you to be as flexible as you can.
Among other concerns I have heard from faculty is how to account for the disruption to research and scholarly work that this work-from-home environment may have created. As you know, we have considerable flexibility in R&P for extending time to tenure, particularly in R&P 184.108.40.206.2, which allows faculty to request an extension of their tenure clock for a variety of reasons, including extreme personal hardship. I would look favorably on requests from faculty who have found or will find the results of our response to COVID-19 to be an extreme hardship. A current constraint is R&P 220.127.116.11, which limits total time to tenure to 8 years (or a maximum extension of 2 years). That may be sufficient in most cases, and any change in that limit would require a change in R&P through the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees.
We will continue to keep you updated in the weeks ahead. Again, thank you for your efforts as we move forward in this new and very different kind of semester. I continue to be impressed with the positive energy and attitude of our faculty and staff, and of our students, who are rising to the occasion just as their instructors are.
I hope you and your loved ones are well.