Message from Provost Stevens - Response to WKU Chapter of AAUP and WKU Senate Executive Committee joint statement
- Cheryl Stevens
- Thursday, June 25th, 2020
Dear Faculty and Staff:
As we continue to work toward a fall reopening, I am so thankful for the remarkable work being done across the university to prepare. This work is different, and this work is hard. WKU has seen many challenges in its history, with this one being the greatest. But we have always overcome, and because of your good work, I am confident we will overcome this as well.
Yesterday, the WKU Chapter of the AAUP and WKU Senate Executive Committee issued a joint statement (attached) in response to the Big Red Restart. We appreciate their work and are thankful for their input as we continue to plan together for a successful restart. In order to provide clarity and a better understanding of the topics raised, I would like to address this statement with the broader community.
First, I’d like to address the concern regarding course modality choice. We have been working collaboratively and collegially with deans and department heads during the past several weeks and will continue this terrific work. The guideline of 70% face-to-face or hybrid and 30% online is not definitive but seems to be the most appropriate breakdown to meet the desires of our students. In early May, we surveyed our incoming freshmen, and overwhelmingly their biggest concern for the fall was not having in-person classes. And we know our most challenged students are those most in need of in-person instruction. Setting a target was also part of the conversation within the Academic Restart Committee. We will continue to look to the leadership of our department heads and deans to work together with faculty to create an academic environment, during a pandemic, which balances the health concerns and individual needs of our faculty with the needs and expectations of our students. We’ve made significant progress, and we have more to do.
Additionally, online teaching is very deliberately not being treated as an accommodation. We have explicitly followed guidelines set forth by the EEOC in an attempt to protect all faculty and have initially offered faculty options where they can explore alternative work arrangements with their department head. In the process built using the EEOC guidance, we intentionally included options which allow faculty to preserve their privacy. Faculty are not required to disclose specific personal or familial medical information in order to request an alternative work arrangement through their department head. Also following federal guidelines, if an alternative work arrangement cannot be achieved within the department or college, we provide faculty an opportunity to seek such an arrangement through the Equal Opportunity Office which does not require disclosure of personal medical information if the faculty member chooses not to do so. Of course, all WKU employees have the option at any time to formally request a workplace accommodation based upon disability through our existing procedures.
Second, for months we have been working with strategic partners to build an on-campus testing program. We continue this work and are confident that we will have readily available on-campus testing at WKU when the fall semester begins. Additionally, we will engage in aggressive contact tracing and isolation.
Third, since the outset of the pandemic, we all have worked together to protect as many faculty and staff positions as possible, and we will continue to do that.
Fourth, reallocating faculty workload toward teaching in lieu of service and/or research for one year was a very difficult decision, especially since most faculty will take a pay reduction. Given the unprecedented challenges we face, department heads and deans have added an additional course or increased course caps to address the anticipated reductions in state funding. We used this strategy to try to protect many full-time faculty and staff positions.
Challenges stemming from the pandemic have created hardships for each of us – personally and professionally – and for our campus community. Given the uncertainties of the economy, and in the face of anticipated reductions in state funding, undertaking a pay reduction and increasing faculty teaching loads in order to reduce the need for part-time faculty were two ways we hoped to achieve our shared desire to preserve the positions held by both academic and non-academic employees. The anticipated results of these measures are dependent upon student enrollment and student success. We will continue to work together to find solutions that move us forward because we value the community of learning that our faculty, staff and students build at WKU.
The coming semester will be challenging and will require all of us to think differently and work differently in ways we perhaps never envisioned. These are trying times, no doubt. Thank you for all that you are doing individually to make this possible.
Cheryl L. Stevens, PhD
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs