Dear Pitt Faculty Members,
As we begin a New Year, and with it the spring term, it is certainly clear that the days ahead will be filled with both opportunities and challenges—all of which will require our continued collective flexibility and ongoing kindness to ourselves and others. I am excited to be able to “flex” our academic muscles to galvanize the Pitt educational experience.
The CMRO's January 8 community message provided updates about plans for the start of the semester and student return to our campuses given the current trajectory and uncertainty of the pandemic. As the CMRO indicated, the return of students will take place as soon as it is prudent to do that and no sooner than the last week of January.
In the meantime, we will begin classes on January 19 using the Flex@Pitt model. We have graduate and undergraduate students who are living off-campus. In-person instruction can be provided for them from the first day of classes and moving forward, when consistent with the University’s health rules, unless otherwise announced.
I deeply appreciate the efforts faculty have made to address student needs. Nonetheless, due largely to the low number of in-person opportunities, our students' responses in the fall COVID-19 Student Survey administered on the Pittsburgh campus were concerning. They revealed feelings of low engagement and sense of connection with their fellow students and professors. I encourage you to think about additional ways to engage your students—both in and outside the classroom—and to plan for a time to meet with them. I have heard some great ideas from instructors on our campuses. From being available to students either before or after class—in person or remotely—to establishing virtual office hours, engagement is always key to our success.
Our surveys show that faculty and students thought the online technology worked well, but that there are several features to explore that offer additional engagement, such as the breakout room and polling features in Zoom. Departments can also support academic clubs and special events to bring students together around shared intellectual interests and discussions of current national and global crises. Our students crave opportunities to get to know us and each other and to feel our support and guidance in this isolating and frightening time in our nation’s history.
The University Center for Teaching and Learning offers other fantastic resources to assist your efforts with Flex@Pitt and in the virtual space. There are a number of outstanding workshops scheduled beginning this month that I hope you will explore. I also recommend the Center’s post “5 Things to Do Over Winter Recess to Prepare for Spring Classes.”
Looking ahead, when it is possible for students to return to our residence halls and communities, I ask all instructors to keep in mind that there will be a need for academic flexibility. Students will be in transit with many possibly moving into their campus housing during the week. Consequently, they may experience disruption to their classwork, and you may need to adjust assignments or due dates accordingly.
In a month when we will both honor and celebrate the uniting legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and witness the inauguration of a new president and vice president, we have opportunities to lend our voices and raise our heads high as a strong and committed community to inspire and comfort each other and all those around us. Thank you for your dedication and continued pedagogical creativity as we launch into a new semester—one that I hope will be healthy, productive and engaging for us all.
Hail to Pitt!
Ann E. Cudd
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor