Post-COVID Academic Innovation Task Force Updates Faculty Senate

The virtual learning environment fostered empathy and flexibility that should be retained as GW returns to in-person learning, according to report given at Faculty Senate.

May 11, 2021

George Washington University students and faculty alike hope to retain some aspects of virtual learning when GW returns to in-person operation in the fall, the Faculty Senate learned from a report by the Post-COVID Academic Innovation Task Force on Friday.

All populations surveyed said the year of virtual learning had opened conversations about which courses are best taught in person and which could be taught online or through a hybrid model. Faculty said they hoped for input into these decisions and also for increased IT support as virtual learning evolves and expands.

Both graduate and undergraduate students said they hoped professors would continue to make asynchronous lecture recordings available when possible. They also hoped GW would continue to make student services more widely accessible through virtual pathways.

In addition, students said they hoped GW would preserve the “culture of empathy” fostered by the exigencies of the COVID-19 crisis.

“I think we made a concerted effort as a university and as individuals to be flexible in this kind of craziness,” said task force co-chair Jason Zara, professor of biomedical engineering and associate chair for academic affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Going forward, faculty “can look at our processes and figure out ways to continue that empathy and support our students.”

Final subgroup reports from the Post-COVID Task Force will be submitted to the Office of the Provost on Wednesday.

President Thomas J. LeBlanc said the response to GW’s vaccination policy in anticipation of the fall semester has been largely positive.

“I want to thank the Senate for all their work this year and all the success of this academic year, which was probably the greatest challenge in higher education in 100 years,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “I for one am looking forward to in person in the fall—to students, faculty and staff enjoying our campus, enjoying each other and enjoying our community.”

The senate also heard a report from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee of the Appointments, Salary and Promotion Policy Committee on retention of faculty members of color and the obstacles to successful retention.

From 2016 to 2020, the subcommittee found, underrepresented minority faculty made up about 16 percent of new hires and about 12 percent of departures. Former faculty members from underrepresented minority communities reported impediments to success surrounding community, mentorship, scholarship support, or bias in search processes.

The report posited that finding a solution will rest on increasing university-wide consistency in faculty recruitment, hiring and mentoring practices, and more focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and addressing disparities. Presenters Shaista Khilji, professor of human and organizational learning and international affairs, and Sarah Wagner, associate professor of anthropology, said the committee is continuing to develop concrete plans to take these next steps.

“We’ve got extraordinary diversity, equity and inclusion leaders on campus who already have some wonderful ideas,” Dr. Wagner said. “It’s time to channel that and…respond.”

The Office of the Provost currently is receiving proposals from outside firms that will conduct GW’s comprehensive diversity audit.

The senate also unanimously adopted a resolution allowing virtual voting at Faculty Assemblies, stating that whenever a regular or special Faculty Assembly meeting is called at which virtual attendance is permitted, either exclusively or as an alternative to in-person attendance, members who are virtually present—in accordance with the criteria announced for that meeting—are to be deemed present for purposes of quorum and voting.

The senate also welcomed new members beginning their terms and heard a report from Joseph Cordes, co-chair of the Fiscal Planning and Budgeting Committee, on budget development and varying types of fund use for fiscal year 2022.

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