Dear Teachers College students, faculty, and staff,
I am writing today to share an update on our plans for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. We have decided that instruction for fall classes will be delivered online, with very few exceptions, and that most staff operations will continue to be online as well.
There is no question that having our community on campus yields benefits and enjoyment for all of us. However, given current circumstances, we can achieve our mission more effectively if we operate primarily online through the end of 2020. This will allow us to deliver a superior and equitable Teachers College experience to our students, to build on what we have learned in digital instruction, and to position us for a safe resumption of all on-campus instruction, activities, and operations when conditions permit.
Below, you will find some details about what our plans for the fall will mean for our community, including ways we will strive for excellence, access and flexibility in instruction; for safety in our operations; and for care within our community.
TOWARD EXCELLENCE, ACCESS, FLEXIBILITY IN INSTRUCTION
We recognize that returning and new students alike will have a different experience this fall than they might have anticipated. We are excited to work with you, albeit in new ways, and we are committed to maintaining our rigorous academic standards, sustaining excellence across all of our programs, and delivering a full and rewarding Teachers College experience to all of our students. That includes access to our world-class faculty, outstanding support (including reimagined career development support and networking opportunities) and the extraordinary resources of our network of great libraries, including those across the Columbia University system.
Excellence in online instruction: This past March, as we moved faculty, staff, and students off of campus and out of the residence halls, we brought all 775 courses online in just nine days. The emergency response and transition went remarkably smoothly, instructors and students alike adapted quickly to new digital platforms and learning tools, and many faculty members found ways to make their courses engaging, effective, and rewarding. This also offered us an opportunity to learn from our experiences about what worked and what could be improved.
Building on that momentum, we will be working throughout the summer to strengthen our online teaching capacity and digital pedagogy. We will continue to provide pedagogical and design assistance for courses that reflect sound instructional design principles. At the same time, we want to accommodate students living in time zones that may make live participation in online classes extremely difficult. To minimize those difficulties, faculty will incorporate flexibility into their course designs, many either by using asynchronous modules or by scheduling small group or section meetings within time zones.
Recognizing that effective online teaching and learning must reflect a commitment to inclusion and equity, we will be leveraging our digital platforms to promote a broader range of participation and engagement practices. From incorporating live captioning, sign-language interpreting and the use of transcripts into online teaching routines … to working more readily in groups in order to recognize biases in one’s work, TC faculty have developed myriad strategies and innovations that preserve and, in many cases, enhance the quality of course instruction. [For examples of how TC professors have made virtual instruction rewarding for students and faculty alike, please read these stories.]
We are excited about the opportunities to develop new digital tools and content that will be shared both through course experiences and through TC community events that will draw on the expertise of our faculty, students, and staff, and showcase creative uses of digital media and pedagogy.
A small number of classes may be on campus. We are working to determine which classes cannot be carried out remotely, and will notify students registered or planning to take those classes as early as possible about alternate plans. For those few courses that may need to be held at least in part on campus, we will accommodate students who are unable or unwilling to attend in person. For example, if feasible, faculty will work to shift the timing of requirements to subsequent semesters in order to allow students who cannot be on campus to meet them. Any in-person classes will be held in technologically-enabled classrooms to enable full live participation by students who cannot attend in person.
We will place heightened attention on internships and field placements. We are doing everything possible to meet the needs of students who have internship opportunities or field placement requirements for earning degrees or certification, while at the same time ensuring the health and safety of students, staff, and neighbors in the communities we serve. We are currently awaiting final guidance from state, city, and accreditation agencies regarding allowable field experience formats for Fall 2020, and our programs are prepared to offer creative and flexible options within those constraints. Students with safety concerns related to in-person formats will, wherever possible, have access to alternative options, such as the option to delay in-person requirements until later in their course of study. While recognizing that the upcoming semester will require flexibility, patience, cooperation, and compassion from all of us, we will work together to forge safe, effective pathways for TC’s aspiring practitioners.
BUILDING A SUPPORTIVE AND GENERATIVE COMMUNITY
We understand that a Teachers College experience involves more than classroom instruction, and recognize that students residing on campus and those attending classes in person will need access to our library, computer labs, and other common areas. For example, the library will be open subject to occupancy limitations and physical distancing guidelines. Other common areas, such as computer labs, will be opened based on public health guidance. Our Student Affairs offices and academic programs will plan as many activities as appropriate given conditions at the time. If conditions improve sufficiently, we will consider authorizing both one-on-one meetings with professors and very small group meetings. We will work explicitly to create a community experience within departments and programs by relying primarily on virtual connections but also on small, in-person gatherings if conditions allow.
Residence halls: We are welcoming students into all residence units that can be safely occupied in accordance with health guidelines from New York State and the federal Centers for Disease Control. (For example, we will not allow occupancy of single rooms in Whittier Hall where multiple students share a bathroom.) If demand for student housing exceeds the number of safely available units, we will prioritize both international students who face impediments to study online in their home countries and domestic students who do not have a good place to participate in virtual instruction. We will direct students to resources for finding alternative housing if there are no available TC units. Enhanced cleaning and sanitation of the residential buildings and common areas will continue, to ensure the living environment remains as safe as possible for our residents. Returning and admitted students interested in living on campus are encouraged to apply for housing as soon as possible through the Office of Residential Services.
Welcoming and accommodating international students: We recognize that many international students will prefer to be on campus this fall, with access to our resources and services, while others may have trouble getting here. We will do everything possible to ensure that all international students receive the full benefits and advantages of a TC educational experience, as well as the support to complete the semester. We understand that international students will have many questions, and will be following up with them in more detail in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we encourage our international students to visit this FAQ site for more information.
PUTTING SAFETY FIRST IN OUR OPERATIONS
We plan to continue our current remote work practices through at least August 1st. Staff who are responsible for the essential safety and physical operation of the campus – in public safety, facilities, and housing – will continue reporting to work. Beginning in August, the definition of essential functions may expand in a limited way as some research and related operations begin to ramp up on campus. To keep the on-campus population to a minimum and to protect the safety of on-campus students and staff, most administrative functions will continue to operate online, and we prefer that all staff who have been able to work remotely and effectively will continue to do so until the end of 2020. I want to underscore the point that no employee who has health issues or concerns should feel pressured to return to campus during the fall, and that we will continue to make remote work accommodations for the foreseeable future.
Some guidelines based on the above: To protect the health and safety of everyone on campus, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting measures will continue. As important, the following rules, in accordance with New York State guidelines and recommendations for colleges and universities, will be strictly enforced:
- Daily health screenings will be mandatory for everyone returning to campus (more details on this will be shared in the coming weeks);
- Face coverings/masks must always be worn over the nose and mouth when entering any of our buildings, in all classes and small meetings or gatherings, and in the halls and bathrooms. Individuals who are working alone in their offices can take off their face coverings/masks;
- Everyone must maintain safe physical distancing of at least 6 feet, which can be relaxed or expanded as conditions warrant;
- No more than one person is permitted in an elevator at one time, and no more than two people are permitted in a restroom at any one time; and
- Until conditions permit, all events will be virtual.
MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER
We acknowledge that going online for the fall may require you to make some adjustments to your learning environment. In particular, we recognize that students may need to absorb additional expenses, such as computer purchases and other technology upgrades in order to ensure reliable virtual access to TC. In light of this, we are reducing the College Fee by 50% for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 terms.
I know this is a lot of information to process, and we will have more detailed information to share with you in the coming days and weeks. Nonetheless, I am sure many of you will have specific questions or concerns you wish to raise in terms of the College’s plans for the fall, and we are committed to responding as promptly and thoughtfully as possible. So we have set up a website just for students to enter questions on an intake form. Ask any question, and a member of our Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Services, International Students and Scholars, or Residence Life teams will follow up with you directly within one business day. Staff may speak with their managers or a member of the HR team with any questions.
While these times have brought stress, challenges, and loss to all of us, we also have come together as a community to do outstanding work, to serve our students, partners, and neighbors, and to affirm our highest values.
The challenge now is for us to stay connected and united as a community, and keep it together for what will be a longer haul. Caring for every member of our community and maintaining excellence across all of our programs and work are not mutually exclusive objectives. To the contrary, they are inextricably linked to our future. And so are you.
President, Teachers College