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Provost's Message: Fall Planning Process

Dear colleagues:

In a recent message to faculty, I indicated that planning for the fall semester has started and that I look forward to continuing to engage academic leadership, deans and the Faculty Senate in thinking through the details. This message is to inform you of the process being followed in regard to academic programs.

Obviously, our plan for delivery of academic programs in the fall will need to include design and details related to multiple dimensions of the university, including health and safety, method of instruction, student affairs, academic resources, enrollment management, etc. Rather than convene an unmanageably large working group with representation across all necessary constituents, I am employing a different approach that involves iterative review and revision of a single proposal by different constituent groups that are asked to contribute expertise in a progressive and formative manner. At each successive step, the prototypal model is tested for feasibility, expanded to include additional functional domains of the university, and refined.  This way, I anticipate that a wide representation of the university will be provided opportunities for input, in an expeditious manner, as they address the assumptions, planning options, and proposed model for delivery of academic programs.

So far, I believe this approach is working well. The first draft of the proposal was a synthesis of ideas contributed by vice provosts, the dean of the graduate school, and the university registrar. This proposal was then discussed with President Sands, the Senior VP and Chief Business Officer, deans, and Alumni Distinguished Professors, to test the ideas at the executive leadership, college leadership, and faculty levels. In parallel, I worked with the Vice President for Student Affairs and his team to see if the proposed plan for delivery of the academic program can be aligned with student housing and service functions. At each stage, I revised the proposal in accordance with the input received.

The proposal has now been submitted to President Sands for his further review and consultation with the President’s Leadership Team. The next phases of development will involve the Academic Affairs Council (AAC), Faculty Senate Cabinet (FSC), and Department Heads Executive Committee (DHEC). Each of these groups is well positioned to seek input from respective constituents and synthesize recommendations for further development of the proposal. I have meetings scheduled with the AAC and DHEC during the week of May 4th and anticipate an invitation to meet with the FSC the same week.

As I mentioned in my note to faculty last week, I believe we must make every effort to integrate in-person experiential learning, such as field work, wet laboratories, artistic performances, and research into the curriculum, but do so in a manner that satisfies our high-priority commitment to the health safety of students, faculty, and staff.  To achieve this goal, we will need to employ public health measures designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 infections to protect those individuals who are at a greater risk of contracting serious disease.

Of course, there are unanswered questions that complicate our ability to plan definitively at this time. These include whether it is reasonable to expect to suppress a resurgence of COVID-19 by employing health safety measures while delivering an in-person curriculum, whether individuals who have had the disease are protected from getting it again, and what governmental regulations and orders will be in place at the start of the fall semester. Nevertheless, we must do our best to design a plan that is likely to be feasible and well aligned with Virginia Tech’s strategic interests, and hope that further guidance concerning how best to manage the pandemic will become available over the next few months. We anticipate being in a position to announce the plan publicly in early June.