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From Provost Clarke: Updates on SPOT Evals, Summer and Fall 2021, Study Abroad

February 10, 2021

Dear Department Heads,

Thank you and your faculty for a successful start to the spring semester, and for your ongoing commitment to create engaging experiences and a sense of community for our students, regardless of location or mode of instruction. Your leadership and partnership in these efforts is critical to Virginia Tech’s success.

I have received a few questions from faculty and department heads, and wanted to provide you with a brief update to the extent that I am able at this time. Please understand that these responses are subject to change as we move through the semester.

  • SPOT scores for the spring 2021 semester: Recognizing the importance and value of SPOT scores in assessing our instructional program, we are in the process of working with the Faculty Senate on a procedure for returning to normal procedures for SPOT evaluations for the spring 2021 semester, with consideration given to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize the relevance of SPOT to promotion and tenure. Under the current proposal being considered for spring 2021, faculty would be expected to report their SPOT scores in their annual evaluation and future promotion dossiers, and be given the opportunity to comment on their scores and any pandemic-related impacts.
  • Preliminary plans for summer session and fall 2021 semester: Although there are still many unknowns, I am optimistic that ongoing prevalence testing, increasing availability of vaccinations, and continued adherence to health and safety protocols by our campus and local communities will result in a fall 2021 semester that looks similar to that of pre-pandemic semesters. This is, however, very much contingent on continued vigilance in wearing masks and social distancing, and subject to any setbacks in the management of the pandemic to include variants that become predominant and resistant to current vaccines, and/or limitations in the availability of vaccines for the general university community. Our modeling team is looking closely at these scenarios and is working hard to provide further guidance and recommendations.
    • Assuming that current limitations on academic programming will continue to the end of this spring and that we will be in a position to resume in-person instruction in the fall, the summer sessions will serve as a transition period. The academic affairs team has started planning for the possibility of offering an in-person educational option to students, taking into account the expectation that most faculty, staff and those at risk of serious infection will be vaccinated by then, but that most students may not be. More information will be provided to deans and department heads as soon as we are able to do so.
  • Summer study abroad and travel activities/programs: Our Global Travel Oversight Committee (GTOC), in consultation with the Provost’s Office and the Global Education Office, is currently allowing study abroad activities to proceed contingent upon program-specific reviews, public health and safety guidelines, and alignment with the university’s academic planning strategies for the spring semester. I expect that we will adopt this same approach for the summer and possibly the fall, and will evaluate each program on its own merits, the risks inherent to the destination, and any mitigation policies and protocols in place. GTOC takes guidance from a number of resources, including the U.S. State Department, CDC, local public health agencies, and in-country U.S. Embassy pandemic information to make decisions on current and future Virginia Tech study abroad activities. We expect that deans and department heads will also continue to have the authority to cancel, suspend, or reschedule programs as they see fit.

I know there have also been a number of questions related to break-ins that had occurred a couple of weeks ago at off-campus student residences. These incidents are under the jurisdiction of and are being handled by the Blacksburg Police Department. If your faculty have ongoing questions or concerns about a student who continues to be affected by impacts of these break-ins, please direct them to the Dean of Students Office.

I will continue to keep you updated on these and other matters related to academic department and instructional operations. Past messages and weekly communications updates are posted on the provost website and may be helpful to you in preparing and aligning your own messages to your faculty.