I am immensely grateful to all of you for your resilience and willingness to assume the extraordinary tasks of moving all instruction, service, and, where possible, scholarly activities to remote and online platforms for the duration of this health crisis. Just one of these efforts under normal circumstances would be arduous, and you are engaged on every front. I recognize your exceptional contributions and I thank you.
We have been discussing with our colleagues in the MSP leadership the anxieties that many faculty and librarians share about how their work during this semester will be evaluated. I agree that you have enough challenges serving our students without this additional burden, so I want to set your mind at ease. All of these special conditions have been discussed with the MSP – and often suggested by them -- and final language will be developed in consultation with them.
Changes in Timing of Decisions on Tenure, Reappointment, and Continuing Appointment
Given the monumental tasks we face this spring semester, it is unreasonable to expect that normal progress can be made in all areas of faculty activity: research, teaching, and service. The cancellation of conferences and research travel, reduced access to labs, the suspension of human-subjects research, and other factors compound the dampening effects of reduced time faculty have available for research/scholarly activity. Even high achievers, such as our UMass Amherst faculty, have limits, as they balance exceptional demands at work and home, particularly with schools closed. Because of this, and because current conditions may persist into the summer, I announce that all pre-tenure faculty members will be granted a one-year delay of their tenure decision, unless they affirmatively elect to be reviewed on schedule. In addition, upon the award of tenure and promotion, the promotion increment in salary will be retroactive to the semester when promotion would have occurred without this one-year delay. The same delay will apply to reviews for reappointment through the tenure decision year (“4.2 reviews”). Reviews for tenure, promotion, and reappointment that are already in progress will continue as scheduled, because they are based on work that was done prior to the current crisis.
Reviews of non-tenure-track faculty and librarians for continuing appointment will also be delayed by one year, if they so choose. The current semester will be credited as service for all other purposes including eligibility for continuous appointment and promotion in rank for non-tenure track faculty.
Guidance to Department Personnel Committees and Others
For all faculty and librarian reviews and personnel actions, in consultation with the MSP, I will issue guidance about the potential adverse effects of the Spring 2020 semester in each of the three areas of faculty responsibility. Moreover, this guidance will give weight to any special contributions made to advance teaching and learning during the COVID-19 health crisis, such as the leadership displayed by tech-savvy faculty who are helping their colleagues adapt to this mode of instruction. This guidance will be directed to personnel committees and other levels of review when assessing cases for promotion, tenure, or continuous appointment, AFRs or ARELs, merit, and any other academic personnel actions. We will also develop relevant language for letters soliciting external reviews.
Suspension of Spring 2020 SRTIs
The administration of the SRTI is suspended for the Spring 2020 semester. Despite the wonderful and creative work of faculty members preparing to transition their courses to remote instruction in various modes, and although there will be many students who will quickly and smoothly adapt to these new modalities, there is likely to be dissatisfaction among some students about the unusual situation in which we find ourselves. Faculty who wish to do an ad hoc evaluation for their own purposes can consult the Center for Teaching and Learning or the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment for assistance, but the results will be available to the faculty member only and no record will be kept. We will also enlist the help of the faculty in understanding how student learning and student success have fared in remote instruction.
Bear in mind that we have a variety of resources in place to help faculty members transition to remote instruction. Please see: provost/disruption-resilient-instruction. Faculty who seek individual help can reach out to: firstname.lastname@example.org, where they can get support from IT, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the University Without Walls Instructional Design Engagement and Support Group (IDEAS).
Grading policy is set by the Faculty Senate, not the administration. At times when the Senate is not meeting, the Senate Rules Committee has authority to act on behalf of the Senate, subject to review when the Senate later meets. My office is in discussions with the Rules Committee about various grading options to help meet the needs of students and faculty. Any policy change will be coming from the Senate office.
Childcare and Technology Support
Under the MSP contract, the University provides various funds to support the professional activities of faculty and librarians including technology replacement and childcare assistance. We will re-budget among these funds to areas of greatest need, such as childcare and technology support, and we will supplement these funds if re-budgeting proves insufficient to meet the need.
In conclusion, please care for your health and safety, and that of your loved ones. Know that your efforts to carry on with educating and serving students in this time of outbreak are powerfully visible and keenly appreciated. In good conscience, I encourage you to pace yourselves with respect to research and service. The time will come to rededicate your commitments in these areas when the current crisis resolves.
With gratitude for all that you do,
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Important: If you hear reports of possible exposure to coronavirus, contact the COVID-19 HR response team at 413-687-2283 or COVID19HR@umass.edu.