The Academic Continuity Task Force held a town hall meeting via Zoom on July 10, in which they discussed recommendations for the fall semester, including a new Ambassador Program and specific course evaluations for online classes. 


The main two panelists were members of the core council of the ACTF,  Honors Program Director Eric Ruckh and Assistant Chair of the Applied Communications Studies Department Josie DeGroot.


The focus of the meeting was on the B group of the task force. DeGroot said this group specifically centers on student life and academics, as opposed to other groups which are more concentrated on the structure of classes.


“Today, we’re talking about the B working groups, and [their charge is] research and creative activities, evaluating faculty teaching and student learning and onboarding new and sustaining returning students,” DeGroot said.


There are three subgroups of the B group. The first subgroup focuses on aiding faculty in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Ruckh said this group had many recommendations, including a policy protecting faculty aspiring for tenure and changes to the academic schedule that would aid with research projects. The policy for faculty aspiring for tenure would remove penalties that faculty would normally have gotten because of taking time off due to the virus.


“We have in-place an emergency policy that was put in place this spring that allows faculty to request a suspension of the probationary period for tenure and promotion. We’re going to propose a retrospective awarding of salary and basically a backdating of the promotion for COVID-related extensions to probationary periods for one year in order to make faculty whole again,” Ruckh said. “We also plan to encourage departments to allow faculty to concentrate their teaching in eight week blocks. So, faculty … if they so choose … could do intensive teaching in all of their courses in an eight week block, then eight weeks of intensive research.”


The second B subgroup analyzed how course evaluations worked during this pandemic, and offered ways to evaluate different online delivery methods.


“These are not to be incorporated into the score of [a professor’s] evaluation. [In the past], maybe you have lower-set numbers than usual — that would have been because the materials or delivery method didn’t help. These [evaluations] are for purposes of reflection,” DeGroot said.


One attendee voiced concerns about female and Black faculty members receiving lower scores in evaluations due to biased responses. Assistant Dean of the Undergraduate and Alternative Program Ann Popkess, who is a member of the B2 group, joined the meeting to address this.


“I want to make a point to mention that evaluations are filled with bias, and particularly so against women and persons of color,” Popkess said. “That is not any different pre-COVID, during COVID or post-COVID, unfortunately. So, we don’t have a perfect system now, and never should an evaluation be the only tool used to evaluate a faculty member or, for that matter, a course.”


The final subgroup of group B focused on students dealing with life on campus during the pandemic. The biggest idea presented by this subgroup was to create an Ambassador Program for aiding incoming students with life on campus. The ambassadors would also encourage compliance with rules and regulations, which was explained by Student Body Vice President Maddie Walters.


“The Ambassador Program is a group of students … who [will be] responsible for maintaining social distancing guidelines throughout campus, and they might have masks that they can give out to those who do not have one. In places that are one-direction pathways, they might be reminding people to follow the arrows,” Walters said.


There were a few questions submitted regarding how strict mask enforcement will be, and whether law enforcement would be involved. Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Miriam Roccia, who is also a member of the B3 subgroup, said police would not be the first response to someone without a mask.


“The B3 group spent a lot of time talking about concerns related to the police department being the first response for anybody [without a mask], but especially for … our Black students and staff,” Roccia said. “There has been a long discussion about how to make the police enforcing masks not the first response, or second, or even third or fourth.”

For more information, read the task force’s previous set of recommendations.

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