Campus Leaders Host Academic Restart Town Hall
Face coverings must be worn around other people in class or at work.
Almost 500 people logged in on July 15 for an academic restart town hall for teaching faculty. President Ángel Cabrera was joined by Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs and K. Harrison Brown Family Chair; Nisha Botchwey, associate dean of Academic Programs, Georgia Tech Professional Education; Bonnie Ferri, vice provost for Graduate Education and Faculty Development; and Nazia Zakir, assistant vice president of Environmental Health and Safety. Renee Kopkowski, vice president for Institute Communications, moderated the event.
Bras opened the town hall by reviewing the Institute’s plan to return to campus that was created with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH), the University System of Georgia (USG), and the Governor’s Covid-19 Task Force. He then provided a recap of the contingency planning for fall, the guiding principles for academic planning, and a campus safety overview.
Botchwey presented the Institute’s plan for teaching in various modes: residential courses with physical distancing, remote courses with limited in-person attendance (hybrid), and remote courses delivered completely online. Ferri presented classroom policies and guidelines including attendance policies, classroom configurations, backup instructors and final instruction days. She also covered resources and programs available to help faculty prepare to teach, teaching accommodations, and student accommodations, as well as new equipment and software available to support instruction. Zakir discussed Covid-19 mitigation strategies being deployed by Georgia Tech Facilities Management and classroom safety, including cleaning and sanitation, personal protective equipment (PPE), and general tips for using classroom spaces. A link to view the town hall and detailed slides are available via the Office of the Provost site.
Cabrera emphasized that the modes of instruction should offer a flexible guide from which faculty members can draw. “Ultimately it is up to each of us to figure out how to best deliver high quality learning while minimizing risk,” he said.
Campus leaders then fielded questions, some submitted in advance and others in real time. Here is a sampling.
What is the plan for day one, when potentially more than 100 people arrive on campus already infected and asymptomatic, according to Georgia Tech Covid-19 models? How should we prepare to discover that our classrooms or offices turn out to be hotspots? (Can we acknowledge this as a possibility in our syllabi?)
Bras: Clearly, we are all facing risks anywhere we are and in anything we do in this particular situation. Out of a population of 26,000 there will be people who are asymptomatic. We are trying to put in place ways to help individuals assess their health every day. We will have 1,500 tests per day, going to possibly 3,000 per day. This will give us a reasonable tracing of the disease as it happens.
I don’t have any reassurance except it is our personal responsibility to take care of the community by physical distancing, wearing masks, and making sure everybody is doing the same. If we do that we minimize the risk at Georgia Tech the same way we would do in any of our communities.
What is the guidance on continued disruptions? Is there a point at which the number of hybrid or remote days cannot exceed the number of face-to-face days before we move to the second or third contingency in our plan?
Bras: There is no threshold of that nature. The majority of the courses are hybrid, which varies from frequent in-person interaction to fairly sparse in-person interaction. About 25% of our courses will be remote, and another 20-something percent will be the normal face-to-face instruction with physical distancing and face coverings.
Cases are higher now than when we went fully online in March. How do you explain the rationale for a different course of action this fall? Also, what is preventing us from having courses and research done remotely instead of on campus?
Cabrera: The resolution passed by Tech’s Faculty Executive Board this week called for offering online whatever courses can be online. I am in agreement with the directionality of that request. We are moving in that direction, expanding the number of situations that would allow a faculty member to move their classes online. So, we are trying to offer a rich number of online options. That is different from saying that anyone can offer their course online. Returning to campus is the path chosen by our Board of Regents.
As a public university we have to be aligned with decisions made by leaders of our state and in accordance with public health guidelines. Right now there isn’t a fixed “bar” that would automatically trigger a move to all online courses. I think it was clear in March that when things reached a level of uncertainty and risk that was unacceptable, given what we knew then, the system ultimately authorized us to move to online instruction. I have no doubt the same thing will happen this fall if we reach that level.
How does Georgia Tech plan to support faculty and staff with children attending completely virtual public schools?
Cabrera: I am aware and appreciate the complexities that the current situation has created in everyone’s lives. I am open to any ideas or best practices from other universities that we can implement. I encourage supervisors to use the tools available to them regarding flexible work schedules and teleworking as appropriate to help faculty and staff meet their work and personal requirements.
How should we prepare to support students with anxiety and/or depression, as some modalities may exacerbate their conditions? And what are the current practices regarding ADA compliance and disclosure? Will they be revised, particularly around those with mentoring or advising roles in addition to their teaching role?
Bras: Anyone with an issue of disability will follow the process through the Office of Disability Services in Dean of Students John Stein’s office. We will try to accommodate every situation as best as we can.
How will the face covering requirement be enforced in classrooms or with faculty themselves?
Bras: We are putting together guidelines and will offer training for how faculty could engage and avoid unnecessary confrontation. Every classroom will be provided with extra masks in case someone forgot theirs.