Leadership Provides Fall Planning Update

Flexibility will remain key as plans evolve for the fall semester, and protecting the GW community’s health and safety is the foremost priority, leadership told the Faculty Senate on Friday.

GW Professors Gate
July 17, 2020

As the fall semester nears, the George Washington University’s plans are evolving daily based on the spread of COVID-19 and the best scientific data and public health guidance, and planning decisions will continue to be driven by GW’s commitment to the safety of all members of its community, President Thomas LeBlanc told the Faculty Senate on Friday.

“In all of our fall plans, the health and safety of our community has been the foremost consideration in everything that we’re doing,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

While the university continues to plan for an in-person residential academic experience to the extent safely possible, officials are continually evaluating new information, monitoring recent resurgences across the country and listening closely to students, faculty and staff to address issues and concerns, Dr. LeBlanc said.

Flexibility will be crucial in the coming weeks and throughout the entire fall semester, Dr. LeBlanc added, as plans are subject to reconsideration and change depending on the pandemic, which continues to be marked by a high degree of uncertainty.

“We are asking everyone to be flexible so that we can implement a reopening plan that respects the health and safety of every individual in our community,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

The university will continue to provide frequent updates to the community, including as soon as possible if there are any significant changes to current fall plans.

Testing and tracing

Lynn Goldman, the Michael and Lori Milken Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, also provided an update on the university’s plans for testing and tracing.

Currently, the university expects to test all on-campus students, faculty and staff, first as they initially return to campus and again after three to five days, Dr. Goldman said. The free tests, which reliably detect active infection of the virus, will be conducted and processed by GW, and results will be available within 24 hours.  Subsequent tests detecting infection would also be conducted periodically throughout the semester on varying timelines specific to different groups of community members. Other tests, which detect antibodies to the virus and indicate whether a person has previously been exposed to it, would also be offered.

In addition to testing, a Campus COVID Support Team will follow up with those who test positive to support rapid response and containment of cases and provide referrals for services and resources. There also will be a mechanism for daily symptom monitoring and guidance for social distancing, masking, isolating and quarantining, all of which are critical in limiting virus transmission, Dr. Goldman said.

There is significant “fluidity” in all of the planning based on the evolving pandemic, Dr. Goldman cautioned.

“We are confronting something we have never seen before,” she said in reference to COVID-19, adding that scientists are constantly adapting as they learn more about the virus and its transmission.

Academic planning

With regard to academic planning, Provost M. Brian Blake said faculty and leadership continue to work to determine which classes will be held in-person, online or in a hybrid mode, understanding that offerings can change at any time this summer and fall as the pandemic changes.

Course listings are being updated daily as schools and colleges provide information. Students can log onto Banner or view the fall class schedule to see the latest information available regarding their courses. Nearly all in-person courses will allow for a combination of in-person and online attendance.

Additionally, classrooms also are being prepared to accommodate in-person teaching with reduced room capacities, Dr. Blake said. This includes non-traditional spaces on campus that can accommodate a larger number of students and will have the needed technology to enable the simultaneous teaching of remote delivery as well as face-to-face.

Dr. Blake also noted that the university continues to communicate with faculty and graduate students with teaching and research responsibilities to emphasize the importance of health and safety and provide the accommodations and support necessary.

Noting a recent survey, Dr. Blake said that the majority of undergraduate students surveyed said they want to attend classes in person this fall and live on campus. In another survey, faculty emphasized the importance of having a vaccine widely available, social distancing, testing, cleaning and sanitizing as among the factors that would help them feel more comfortable returning to campus.

Finally, Dr. Blake also said that hundreds of faculty members have signed up for FLEX camp sessions, which help instructors transition existing coursework to online and blended formats for flexibility. Many additional faculty have attended shorter workshops and webinars to prepare for the fall.

Title IX

Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement Caroline Laguerre-Brown also provided an overview of new Title IX regulations from the U.S. Department of Education. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all university programs and activities.

Ms. Laguerre-Brown summarized the regulation’s definition of sexual harassment, the scope of Title IX jurisdiction and the Title IX grievance process.

While concerns have been raised that the requirements under the new regulations may discourage individuals from reporting allegations of sexual harassment, the Title IX Office will remain focused on providing comprehensive resources to all members of the GW community, Ms. Laguerre-Brown said.

"The resources we provide are available even if an individual does not choose to pursue a formal complaint," she said.

Ms. Laguerre-Brown is engaging with campus stakeholders across the university, including the senate, to discuss the new regulations and upcoming changes to university policy.

Other senate news

  • The senate adopted a resolution urging the university to increase financial support for diversity, equity, inclusion and financial aid; enhance diversity training; contribute to addressing police brutality; further direct GW’s academic mission toward efforts to fight systemic racism; develop plans to increase workforce diversity, equity and inclusion; and other suggestions.
  • The senate adopted a resolution expressing gratitude for Terry Murphy and her contributions as deputy provost for academic affairs.
  • Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Arthur Wilson said shared governance between faculty and the administration is “proceeding apace,” noting recent conversations about renaming considerations, shared administrative services and fall planning.
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