AY 2020-21: Responses to Faculty Questions

The following are responses to questions that faculty have posed regarding planning for AY 2020-21. 

Public Health / Three-term Plan

Q. How is the University going to safeguard public health and safety in this three-semester plan?
A. Health and safety is the top priority in all of the University’s planning and decision-making, and has been informed by guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as Brown’s engagement with public health and medical experts and the Rhode Island Department of Health.

The three-semester de-densified residential model will require robust covid-19 testing, including testing students on arrival and most likely throughout their time at Brown, regardless of whether they show any covid-19 symptoms. We are currently piloting a testing program and exploring additional testing and tracing options for all students and employees at Brown. We have facilities and other resources in place needed to quarantine students who test positive or who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

In terms of instruction, all faculty have prepared to teach their courses in online/remote/hybrid formats. This will ensure that if we begin online, transition to online teaching and learning, or have a hybrid of in-person and online, faculty are well prepared. Given social distancing guidelines, the Academic Continuity Group Committee led by Provost Locke has assessed classroom capacity to determine space availability to ensure safe instruction, and the University will work with faculty, department chairs and scheduling to ensure that courses can be delivered safely.

In the fall, and for as long as public health circumstances require, we will adhere to social distancing guidelines, reductions in faculty and staff “density,” use of face coverings/masks or other personal protective equipment, and increased cleaning of classrooms and other facilities.

Additional details are available in Brown’s “Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21.” The plan outlines the public health steps that are being put in place to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on campus. These steps include changes in modes of instruction, with most courses being delivered online and only courses or sections with 20 or fewer students taking place in person; modifications for undergraduate students in terms of housing, dining and extracurricular activities; and the implementation of strict protocols for personal health, distancing, cleaning and regular testing that will be essential for safeguarding the well-being of our community.

Further, the Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force is planning a public health information campaign for Brown employees, students and their parents to keep the community informed of the latest guidance and resources. Students, faculty and staff will be expected to comply with all state and University guidelines.

Q. Will the University take into consideration issues such as faculty research responsibilities, childcare responsibilities, alignment with the Rhode Island public schools’ status, etc. when determining teaching assignments, particularly in a three-semester model?
A. The University’s planning for the coming academic year is and will be closely aligned by state and federal public health guidance, and will consider the potential of childcare and Rhode Island public schools being affected, recognizing this will affect many faculty and staff with school-aged and younger children.

The University, working closely with departments, will promote as much choice and flexibility as possible to accommodate the needs of faculty and staff. In the three-semester model, faculty would be expected to teach two of the three semesters.

Q. Will testing and tracing be required of all students, staff and faculty?
A. Yes, being on campus will require agreeing to a set of actions to ensure public health, including agreeing to testing and tracing.

Q. There is evidence that the amount of time that is spent is a contributing factor to COVID-19 transmission. What consideration has been given to the length of courses?
A. Faculty have flexibility in how they deliver the high-quality courses they have developed, whether in person, online or a hybrid model, as long as public health guidance is followed. If a faculty member believes it may be unsafe to teach a longer course in person, even with adequate social distancing, the use of face masks etc., they are free to configure an approach that is accessible to enrolled students.

Q. The three-semester model calls for all class years to be on campus in the spring. What will be different in January v. September, and what are the factors being evaluated?
A. We are planning for a range of public health situations.  If the incidence of covid-19 continues to decline through the fall semester, we believe that it will be safe to return to a denser campus environment in the spring semester. If there is a growth of cases in the fall, we may need to have fewer students in the spring. We will be guided throughout by public health data and expertise.

Q. Is the University considering the fact that teaching in summer may be problematic for faculty engaged in research or who have young children?
A. While we understand that teaching during the summer semester may be challenging for some faculty – especially early career faculty and those with young children – it may work well for others. It is our expectation that we will be able to deliver the same high-quality instruction across all three semesters, without undue reliance on adjunct instructors, especially given that the summer semester will enroll fewer students.

Since no faculty member will be required to teach in all three semesters, it is our expectation that the “off” semester can be used for research, much as the summer is now. 

Q. It is unlikely that regardless of de-densification that there will be adequate social distancing among undergraduate students. How is the University addressing this?
A. The University is planning an educational/awareness campaign targeting students, staff and faculty to emphasize the importance of public health practices. In addition, the University is creating conditions that will make it more possible for social distancing, such as de-densifying residence halls by permitting one occupant per room and limiting shared spaces, such as kitchens and bathrooms.  This will be possible through rental of rooms off campus for students.

Students must also sign an attestation that they will follow protocols, and any violation is considered a violation of the code of conduct.

Q. What if public health conditions are such that it is unsafe to bring students back to campus? What are the factors being considered?
A. The University’s decision-making is based first and foremost on public health conditions and guidance from public health experts on campus, and at the state and federal levels. To be able to return to campus safely depends on a number of factors, including, in the three-semester model:

  • A de-densified model that calls for at most ¾ of the student population to be on campus in the fall.
  • Practices for in-person safety (masks, hygiene etc.).
  • Availability of reliable, ubiquitous testing and tracing.
  • Protocols for addressing any cases as they arise (such as quarantining).
  • Education awareness campaign.

Q. How will activities such as sports, music, theater be affected by the three-semester scenarios?
A. Decisions regarding academic and campus life will be guided first and foremost by public health guidance. Some activities will need to be rethought, revised and reconfigured to align with public health guidelines such as social distancing. The University’s planning processes are taking all of these factors into account.

Q. How is the University thinking about tuition? Will tuition be the same for online, in-person or hybrid learning scenarios?
A. Tuition pays for learning, and the University will provide a high-quality academic experience for students and keep them on track toward degree completion regardless of the medium of instructional delivery. As a result, we do not anticipate offering differential rates of tuition based on in-person vs. online instruction. The costs of providing instruction will not change, and in some cases, will increase based on remote methods.


Q. How can we ensure equity in teaching and learning?
A. In terms of teaching assignments and support, we have shared historical course enrollment information by undergraduate class year and graduate program as well as historical graduate TA assignments. This information can help estimate likely enrollments for next year and ensure that the teaching load is equitable distributed across your department. Department chairs have been asked to consider how to best support early career faculty as well as those with personal or family circumstances when making teaching assignments.

In terms of supporting learning, key approaches for inclusive classrooms include fostering student participation (e.g., explaining why student contributions to discussions are important), using asynchronous instructions and active learning modalities to allow learners to approach and engage material in their own way, and inviting student feedback and self-reflection. While the shift to remote instruction made visible the differing circumstances of our students, the transition also showed how simple steps like pre-discussion writing forums and recorded lectures can help support student engagement and learning. If you would like more feedback on inclusive teaching practices, please reach out to the teams in the DLD/Sheridan/Library.

Q. How can we ensure attention to students in need of accommodations?
A. Different learning modalities, including remote instruction, present new opportunities for supporting students. For example, many students reported the benefits of recorded lectures and automatic transcripts this past semester; students also reported that instructor shifts to online formative assessments and short writing assignments helped to strengthen their engagement with material. Of course, there are also unique challenges that may arise. It is important to help ensure that students are comfortable reaching out to you with questions, and please know that you and your students can always reach out to SAS - Student Accessibility Services -  for guidance and support.

Q. Has ADA compliance being factored in planning for the three-semester model?
A. Yes. Our planning processes are taking into consideration the importance of supporting students, faculty and staff with reasonable and appropriate accommodations.

Q.  Will there be accommodations for parents—even this summer—if organized childcare still isn’t available?
A. Brown Human Resources has backup care in place. Please see: https://www.brown.edu/about/administration/human-resources/benefits/family-resources/back-care

Courses and Teaching

Q. Has there been any consideration to offer one course online for credit?
A. Yes. All first-year students will be offered one for-credit online course and at no cost in the fall

Q. Can we offer first-year seminars in the fall?
A. Yes. First-year seminars can be offered in fall, spring and summer. Every first-year student will be offered the option to enroll in an online course for credit in the fall, at no cost to them.

Q. Can we offer first-year students two courses for credit in the fall?
A. No, we cannot. The intent of the one-course option is to provide students with an opportunity (not a requirement) to engage with Brown before they begin their formal studies. Two courses would be a significant half-time commitment that may be inaccessible for some students, and would also pose a number of equity and regulatory challenges.

Q. How do we think about sequential courses?
A. The goal of the three-semester model is, to the extent possible, have students on campus in two sequential semesters. Health conditions may affect this for sophomores, but we encourage the consideration of sequential courses in the curricular planning being done.

Q. (In STEM) We have a lot of sophomore/junior spring lectures. Can we do these asynchronously?
A. Yes, we encourage faculty to work with Digital Learning and Design (DLD), the Sheridan Center and the University Library to explore options for delivering instruction in effective and innovative ways.

Q. How should we think about large but non-essential courses?A. Departments should identify the courses that are most essential given planning guidelines provided. In some cases, it may be advisable to defer some courses that may be less essential based on a range of criteria.

Q. We have a required course for second years. When can we teach that?
A. You can ensure access for second year students by teaching this course in the fall semester.  You may also wish to consider having it tentatively scheduled for the spring, and taught by a faculty member who is teaching spring/summer, allowing them to flip two classes if sophomores are moved to the summer semester.

Q. For lab-based courses, 30% to 50% of the requirements take place in the labs. Labs are difficult to conduct remotely. Do you have guidance for us on this?
A. We recognize that certain courses are more difficult to deliver remotely, including lab courses and performance-based courses. We encourage faculty to work the team at DLD/Sheridan/University Library to identify options.

Q. Many courses are designed for first and second years. Have you thought of having sophomores in the summer (and not spring)?​
A. Our decision on the timing of the second semester of sophomore year will be driven primarily by public health considerations.  We know from student surveys that the sophomores would prefer to be in residence fall-spring, but the need for a de-densified campus may make this impossible.

Q. Has there been any consideration of whether first-year students could take their entire first semester online in the fall?
A. These questions are related. While every course is being prepared to be taught online, the desire -- especially for first year students -- is to provide a residential experience. Notwithstanding that all online/remote courses meet the rigorous standards for a Brown course/degree and will be ready for online and/or remote delivery for the Fall, residential teaching/learning is important because it:

•   Enhances learning both inside & outside classroom through formal and informal exchanges with peers and faculty
•   Cultivates community among students and between students and faculty
•   Promotes diversity and inclusion
•   Creates employment opportunities for students on campus
•   Allows synchronous teaching schedules and live virtual interaction

Q. What resources are available to ensure that online courses are of a very high quality?
A. The University has invested in the team that is supporting faculty to transition to online (DLD/Sheridan/Library). We will also assess in the curricular planning process any possible reasonable technology needs identified by faculty for their courses, and classrooms are being assessed for technological capacity.

Q. Will the University assist with proctoring exams? In an online environment, how can we address the importance of coursework integrity?
A. The Dean of the College will offer guidance on tools and best practices for proctoring and ensuring academic integrity in an online environment.

Q. There is a limitation of in person courses to 20 students and below in the fall. Are there sufficient classrooms to hold these?
A. The University has assessed the number of classrooms and other spaces available to allow courses or recitation sessions of less than 20 safely. With most courses taking place online, there are sufficient spaces to accommodate these smaller courses.

Q. Since space may not be a constraint, which has been a central factor in course scheduling, are we still required to work with the registrar on course scheduling?
A. Working with the Registrar on course scheduling and coordination remains essential, even when teaching remotely. Faculty are encouraged to work with the Registrar to implement ideas for pedagogically superior course delivery.


Q. What will Brown's grading policies be in 2020-21?
A. In Fall 2020, Brown will follow the standard grading policies outlined in the Faculty Rules and Regulations, which support both student and instructor choice around grade options. Some courses will be offered mandatory Satisfactory/No Credit (S/NC) at the discretion of the instruction. If your course is not a mandatory S/NC course, you can elect to take the course either for a letter grade (A/B/C/NC) or S/NC. The grade option deadlines for the 2020-21 academic year can be found in the Registrar's Academic Calendar.

Graduate Students

Q. How will the three-semester model affect graduate classes and graduate students?
A. Graduate student courses will continue to be held in the fall and spring, with summer devoted to research and field work. Additionally, programs may give students the option of “switching” an appointment in fall or spring for a summer appointment. The University will hire additional TAs as needed to bridge any gaps in the summer.

For those graduate students for whom this period has disrupted their research, the University is extending time permitted to complete their work (by up to one year).

Q. Do graduate students have to teach in person?
A. The same considerations apply to graduate student TAs as faculty. Graduate students will not be required to teach in person if they do not feel safe doing so.

Q. Will TA-ing change given the graduate student union contract?
A. The contract addresses issues such as wages, work conditions, and appointment notifications, and not academic matters.


Q. Should full-time faculty on a multi-year renewal cycle (i.e., Lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Distinguished Senior Lecturers) worry about not being renewed?
A. Lecturer track faculty will continue to be reviewed according to the criteria outlined in departmental Standards and Criteria and the Handbook of Academic Administration. The Handbook states in general that lecturer rank faculty “may be renewed for fixed terms of no more than three years, so long as the needs of the department and the quality of performance warrant such appointment” (Handbook, 4.6.2).

Lecture track faculty with contracts ending on June 30, 2020 have already been notified of their status (last fall).  We are honoring all of those decisions.


Q. What will the next cycle of annual reviews of Tenure-Track look like?  
A. In keeping with the Faculty Rules and Regulations, tenure track assistant professors will be reviewed annually unless they are scheduled for a reappointment review which would take the place of the annual review. There are no changes in this policy.


Q. Will there be changes to sabbatical policy?
A. There are no changes to the Brown sabbatical policies under discussion at this time.

Q. Will it be harder to secure a “top up” to full salary if one receives a grant/fellowship?
A. There are no plans at this time to change policies to “top up” research leaves on the basis of external awards.


Q. I have heard that there may be some extension on the tenure clock. What about for faculty who have already submitted their tenure dossier? Is there any change to the timeline there?
A. As announced in the Provost’s March 30, 2020 memo, tenure track-faculty have been given the option of extending their tenure clocks due to the disruption of work caused by the COVID-19 health crisis. All tenure-track assistant professors eligible for this extension have been contacted and have made their decisions about whether to opt into this program. This option is not available to tenure track faculty whose dossiers have already been submitted.

Q. Will the expiration date for startup packages be automatically pushed forward by one year due to the extension of the tenure clock?
A. The end dates on start-up funds for tenure-track assistant professors will be adjusted to correspond to the contract extensions offered to tenure-track assistant professors.

Q. Can you outline what the changes in spending are for tenure-track faculty, and what the options are for changing tenure clock?
A. As announced in the Provost’s April 20, 2020 memo, the following policy on the expenditure from start-up and research accounts:

Purchasing: All purchases of supplies, equipment, as well as expenses such as professional society dues, subscriptions to data services, etc., must be kept to an absolute minimum and postponed whenever possible. All purchases over $500 must be approved by the relevant dean.
Major Equipment: Purchases of major equipment should be delayed until the associated lab activities can be restarted safely, and even then, please consider whether work can be shifted to use existing shared facilities in order to defer major expenditures. Please contact the cognizant dean for any questions about major equipment purchases.
Travel: University travel restrictions remain in place in this public health emergency. When traveling safely becomes possible, only approved categories of travel will be permitted. This will include essential academic travel, travel funded through grant or other external sources, or travel to conduct essential University business. Travel must be approved by the relevant dean.
Startup and research funds: These funds may be used to fund regular graduate student stipends and other fees. Funds may also be used to hire undergraduate and/or graduate student research assistants provided there is an established need for the research assistance, and subject to department chair approval.
Summer salary: Summer salary may be charged to startup/research funds if this explicit provision was stated in a hiring contract. Summer salary may only be charged during periods of time in which the faculty member is devoting effort to their Brown research.

Q. Is the University providing specific guidelines to the Tenure, Promotions and Appointments Committee about considerations for COVID-19?
A. There are no special instructions being given to TPAC with regard to disruptions caused by Covid-19. The adjustment of the tenure clock for tenure track assistant professors is intended to mitigate the negative impact of the public health crisis on research and teaching.


Q. How is the University managing the financial consequences of the pandemic? Will there be additional measures taken?
A. We recognize that members of our community may continue to have concerns about their economic security. While the long-term impact of the pandemic remains uncertain, we remain committed to developing plans with the goal of maintaining the financial well-being of both students and employees, and especially those who experience the greatest impact of financial uncertainty. Our hiring and salary freezes remain in place for this fiscal year, but the University is not currently planning any COVID-associated layoffs. Moving forward, we will continue to explore temporary work assignments and other strategies as we make every effort to avoid layoffs to the best extent practicable.

Q. How the University is accessing the endowment to deal with the budget shortfall?
A. The University is continuing to manage the revenue produced by its endowment to address in a strategic and responsible way the special challenges posed by the Covid-19 crisis. The University endowment provides 16% of the University operating budget. It is important to note that there are legal restrictions on how endowment funds can be used. The endowment’s value has enabled the University to expand borrowing to ensure ongoing liquidity.