Office of the Provost
Office of the Provost
As the infection rates from COVID-19 climbed in recent weeks, we have been in close communication with state officials as we discussed the best course of action to keep our faculty, staff, and students as safe as possible at the start of the fall semester. Dr. Dobbs (state health officer) and Dr. Roberts (director of the Moffitt Health Center) have both stated their medical opinion that in-person classes can continue safely as planned on August 23rd.
Our goal is always to put health and safety first, while ensuring that we are fulfilling our mission as a public institution of higher education. We require face coverings inside on campus, and the institution has invested significant resources in upgrading air filtration systems in classroom buildings. We also have plexiglass in place or available for close contact spaces such as lab environments.
Some lecture classes with difficulty keeping three feet of distance between students may need to modify delivery for the first two weeks of the semester. Specifically:
- School directors will continue to manage course assignments in ways that consider optimal instructional delivery, accreditation considerations, and student demand.
- Faculty may provide input, but ultimately the delivery mode, time, and day remains a responsibility of school directors and program coordinators to ensure optimal delivery with these factors in mind.
- Once a format is determined, faculty members must email their students to let them know the specific plans for their class for the first two weeks. This email content must also be posted as a Canvas announcement in case students add the class and miss the original email.
If the surge related to the Delta Variant extends beyond the predicted time frame, this framework will be adjusted in accordance with evolving guidelines.
In extraordinary circumstances and in consultation with and approval of the dean, other delivery options may be considered.
All instructors of record should reference the detailed information below regarding communicating with students about vaccination, masking on campus, accommodations for in person classes later in the term, and preparing to pivot if needed.
We appreciate your patience and your support as we work through these challenges and seek the guidance of our state and local medical professionals.
First and foremost, the institution is focusing strongly on promoting vaccination and we need your help. If you are not yet vaccinated, please do so today. Vaccines are available on campus and in the community. We also need you to promote these opportunities to our students, reminding them of the significant incentives that we are offering through weekly drawings for prizes for fully vaccinated students. As of 8/18/21, more than 3400 students have provided proof of full vaccination with many others in process, and we hope to see that number grow significantly in the month ahead. They are receiving regular communication and encouragement from the Vice President for Student Affairs.
Please share the Vaccine Incentive PowerPoint Slide with information on vaccination incentives with your students at the start of the semester – in person and/or in Canvas. If they have any questions, they can contact Moffitt.
We have a new COVID-19 syllabus statement for fall 2021; please include this on all your syllabi, regardless of the class modality. You can find this statement, along with other teaching resources, on the Center for Faculty Development website.
The first week of class, take a few minutes to talk with students about this statement and the importance of being responsible for their health and that of others in the community. If your class is online, have a Zoom/Teams conversation (if synchronous) or an active discussion with available live office hours (if asynchronous). We want to return to as “normal” a campus life as possible, and that goal hinges on their self-care. Assure them that we are doing all we can to keep the campus safe by requiring masks, cleaning, providing free vaccinations and testing, and communicating continuously with health officials; everyone in the community has to be part of the effort by being as safe as possible. Everyone’s choices matter when it comes to public health.
You may hear from some students who want exceptions to required attendance for in-person classes, based on either medical circumstances or life situations that challenge their ability to be in class. Some of these students may have health conditions that prohibit their attendance in in-person classes, unrelated to any mandatory quarantine. If a student shares such a health condition with you and asks for accommodations, please direct them to the Office for Disability Accommodations. Students should expect to provide documentation of their situation and discuss their needs with professionals in ODA. That office can be reached at 601.266.5024/228.214.3302 or odaFREEMississippi.
If a student has COVID-19 or has a close-contact exposure to COVID, they should not attend class. If a student tells you that they are in this situation, please contact the Dean of Students’ office for guidance (601.266.6028 or dosFREEMississippi). They can provide you with confirmation or reach out to the student for details. It is inevitable that some students will be quarantined this fall, so please plan ahead for how you will accommodate those students through remote work and/or make-up work in the event they are ill and unable to do classwork for a period of time.
Other students may ask you about attending virtually rather than in-person because of a non-medical extenuating circumstance (e.g., children home from school). You have the authority to determine your own absence policies and consider how you respond. Not all requests are manageable or reasonable for every class subject and pedagogy, and students do not automatically get to elect to miss class and have work provided to them. It is important, however, to keep notes on any such requests and your response to them, and we ask you to use care in being consistent in your response to students in similar situations. Please also talk with your school director about your plans for handling such cases to ensure that you are in line with school protocol and plans.
Students may also go to the Office of Student Outreach and Support to provide information and documentation about their situation and receive guidance. This office acts as a liaison between students, faculty, and other university areas, particularly in cases where students miss class. They do not give permission to be absent, but they can help with gathering documentation and communicating with you about possible adjustments. Students who wish to discuss their situation should contact the office at 601.266.6028/228.214.3302 or dosFREEMississippi.
Please review the linked student-facing language regarding attendance exception requests, in case that is helpful to you.
If you are teaching an in-person class, masks are required. Please think in advance about traffic flow within the classroom and how to dismiss students in ways that will minimize close contact and encourage distance.
Some faculty members are interested in exploring alternate day attendance patterns for the entire semester, with half the class attending each day to limit the number of students present and allow for more distance. On the “off” day, students would complete work online in this format. If you want to consider this possibility, talk with your school director.
“Pivot” is a word none of us want to hear. That said, giving the high rates of infection and spread in the state, we must prepare for fall with an awareness that shifting to virtual learning is a possibility for some points in the semester ahead.
The Dean of Students’ office will be the point of contact for student quarantine and, as such, will be leading our contact tracing work. If a significant number of students in your class are in quarantine, the Dean of Students will work with you to determine whether there is a need to pivot to fully online delivery until that quarantine period ends.