Provost Bill Hardgrave shared in an Auburn University Senate meeting on Tuesday afternoon over Zoom that the fall 2020 semester on-campus will end by Thanksgiving. The semester will begin on Aug. 17 as originally planned and end face-to-face on Nov. 24, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, according to Hardgrave.
The revised academic calendar will be achieved by eliminating fall break and the first two days of Thanksgiving break, Hardgrave said. This means that the total number of instructional days will be reduced from 72 days to 71, "well within the guidelines of instructional days we need to offer," he said.
"[This plan] is what we believe we can do in August," Hardgrave said. "That all could change, and we will continue to monitor and respond based upon external forces. The plan tries to be as flexible as possible for students; we certainly want good student retention but also good student academic progress toward graduation."
The University organized a fall reentry task force that included Don Mulvaney, associate professor of animal sciences, Hardgrave said, to evaluate how to approach the fall calendar. The task force determined that final exams should be administered remotely, meaning that students will not be required to return to campus after Thanksgiving for any exams.
"The services that we use to proctor the remote exams, we are covering that from a University perspective so the departments and colleges are not paying for that," Hardgrave said ahead of possible faculty concerns on how mass exam proctoring will be financed in the fall.
Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 will serve as final exam study days, Dec. 2-4 will be exam days, Dec. 5 and 6 will be additional study days and Dec. 6 and 7 will be the last days of exams, Hardgrave explained.
Because of these adjustments, Hardgrave said that the full 2020-21 academic year will be treated as a "tri-mester" year regarding how and when professors and instructors may teach, since some faculty might have a health condition or be reluctant to return to campus.
"If you're scheduled to teach in the fall and are unable to do so, when working with your department, ... you may be able to defer your teaching to the spring or defer your teaching to the summer," he said.
Hardgrave emphasized that deferring teaching will be allowed on a per-faculty, per-department basis.
"We've received a lot of input from a lot of different folks and really tried to look at what others are doing so we could learn from other schools," Hardgrave said. "When we were looking at this, the safety of our faculty, students and staff and the broader Auburn community certainly is the institution's highest priority."
The fall reentry task force made determinations based on the University's summer reentry plan, Hardgrave said, where students with classes during the second summer mini-semester may choose to return to campus on June 29.
Some faculty members in the Zoom meeting were uncertain about how their courses will be affected by the revised fall plan. Hardgrave stayed for the entire duration of the meeting to take questions as they were asked throughout.
Zachary Schulz, an instructor in the Department of History, expressed concern about how the tri-mester teaching model would approach non-tenured faculty.
"How are non-tenured track faculty, such as adjuncts, instructors and lecturers expected to shift their teaching load when many are weighted a four-four teaching load?" Schulz asked. "That would mean that I would give up my fall to teach 80 hours of classes in the spring if we played this model, so it's a bit problematic."
A suggestion from Hardgrave for those with four-four teaching loads, meaning four classes taught in one semester and four taught in another, was to move to four classes in spring and four in summer.
"That counts as your annual load then," he said. "it just depends on whether you have flexibility in your workload assignment in one of those semesters to take on an extra load. Certainly, I don't think it would be reasonable to have somebody teaching eight classes in the spring to make up for not teaching in the fall, but hopefully there's some flexibility in there for everybody."
There are some departments which may not allow this because of having unique classes or being reduced in faculty, Hardgrave said, encouraging those with these concerns to individually speak with their department heads.
Yanzhao Cao, a professor in the Department of Math and Statistics, asked about the possibility of reducing the semester by one week to allow for face-to-face final exams.
"One of my main misgivings of teaching online is not being able to give tests and the final exam in [the] classroom," Cao said. "If the final exams are given remotely, it would significantly reduce effectiveness of teaching in classrooms."
To this, Hardgrave said that "there are side effects of ending the semester [altogether] in November," but that it was one plan the fall reentry task force considered.
"One of those [side effects] for example, is that we are a VA-friendly, military-friendly university," he said. "Those who are on VA benefits — if the semester ends before December — they don't get their pay in December. You have to be into December for those to get their benefits."
On top of this, Hardgrave acknowledged some student loans are under the same restrictions. He said that the University's main priority is keeping COVID-19 transmission low during the fall, a goal he hopes is achieved by the elimination of fall break and first two days of Thanksgiving break, in turn restricting student travel.
"We just felt that with the danger or the risk of students traveling extensively over Thanksgiving and then coming back to campus, the trade-off was having those remote exams," he said. "As a professor, certainly you control your syllabus, you control what you do in the classroom. Certainly, you can trade-off some things there about what they do after the Thanksgiving break vs. what they do before."
Hardgrave encouraged faculty to send additional feedback about the fall reentry plan directly to his office or through Nedret Billor, mathematics and statistics professor and the outgoing chair of the University Senate.
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