Spring Semester, Provost Office Planning Discussed at Faculty Senate

The university released the spring academic calendar and Provost M. Brian Blake provided an update on academics.

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November 16, 2020

As the George Washington University continues the fall semester, planning for the spring is underway, most recently with an announcement of the spring academic calendar and details about welcoming additional residential students to campus, President Thomas LeBlanc said in an update to the Faculty Senate on Friday.

The spring semester will begin on Jan. 11 for most students and include a traditional weeklong spring break, with no classes held on Inauguration Day.  The 1,100 additional students moving onto campus in the spring will move in at the end of January, Dr. LeBlanc said, to avoid a potential “superspreader” event around the inauguration, when there is likely to be a large influx of travelers to the region.

All members of the university community received more information about the spring in a message on Friday.

Dr. LeBlanc thanked the faculty for their continued flexibility and the extra work they are performing to ensure their students’ success and help the university fulfill its core mission.

“I know that all of the senators and the entire faculty continue to make sure that our students are getting a high-quality experience this fall, and I want to thank all of you for everything you are doing to ensure that outcome,” Dr. LeBlanc said, adding he is hearing positive feedback from students. “I have heard consistently from them that faculty are making extra time for them, going the extra mile, and they’re really pleased with the educational experience they’re receiving in the classroom.”

Dr. LeBlanc also provided an update on current campus operations, noting that, as is the case with many communities across the country, there is an increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the D.C. area, which is reflected in recent updates to the university’s COVID-19 Testing Dashboard.

While some of the cases are in the on-campus student cohort, most are occurring within the off-campus student population that is using the testing resource voluntarily and does not have access to on-campus facilities, Dr. LeBlanc said. 

The university is continuing to closely monitor public health conditions and frequently communicating expectations to both the on-campus and off-campus communities.

“We all have to be conscious of combatting ‘COVID fatigue’ and trying to do the best we can to remain compliant with all public health protocols,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

Dr. LeBlanc also noted several recent faculty achievements, including faculty who are involved in President-Elect Joe Biden’s transition work and the work of many faculty and researchers involved in operating the university’s laboratory processing COVID-19 tests and the clinical trial site for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Provost’s office update
Provost M. Brian Blake said he is continuing to listen closely to faculty senators, deans and members of the leadership and has had a series of collaborative discussions about the university’s academic future during the past few months.

“I’ve really taken seriously my commitment to shared governance, particularly to enhance academic and research missions,” Dr. Blake said.

Recently, the academic master planning process was deferred, and Dr. Blake said he recognized the faculty’s concerns particularly about fatigue, lack of time to dedicate to planning and level of involvement in planning.

“I hear those concerns. This work has got to be absolutely faculty-led and faculty-owned,” Dr. Blake said. “There’s no way we are going to be able to think about our academic programs and what we offer to students without faculty being almost 100 percent complicit in this work.”

Moving forward, Dr. Blake said he plans to continue to work with the senate and noted a desire to establish a task force to look at innovation in pedagogy and modality to discuss issues brought on by the pandemic and lessons learned so far.

“Faculty have been invaluable for me, not only at GW but through my entire career,” Dr. Blake said. “I’m so appreciative of all the talent and our passionate scholars and certainly want to partner in how we move GW forward, particularly from the academic mission standpoint.”

Enrollment update
Jay Goff, vice provost of enrollment and student success, also presented an update on the fall census and future enrollment planning. The university released the fall census in late October, showing a 2.9 percent decrease in overall enrollment compared to 2019 but maintaining a strong first-year class of students.

“We have a smaller new-student class, but extremely talented, probably one of our top four or five classes in the history of GW, and more diversity across the board,” Mr. Goff said. “And we did see growth in different programs, especially among our graduate and professional degree programs.”

Looking forward, leadership is monitoring enrollment trends on the undergraduate and graduate levels nationally and at GW to plan for spring and fall 2021.

The university is taking many steps to enhance recruitment and retention, Mr. Goff said, including holding virtual recruitment events, conducting targeted prospect outreach and connecting with current students and improving support for them, among other efforts.

In the short term, GW has established tactical groups to recommend enrollment mitigation strategies and innovative enrollment enhancements. For the long term, strategic enrollment management planning at the university and school and college levels will remain important, Mr. Goff.

The senate adopted a resolution to expand religious holiday accommodations and made recommendations for the process and timeframe for requesting accommodations and addressing conflicts with exams.

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