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Office of the Provost

Provost Communication

All Faculty
October 16, 2020


I know that there have been rumors of pressure from university administration and from state-level policymakers to significantly increase to face-to-face offerings in the spring and beyond. I want to address those rumors and to be as transparent as possible about the situation we are facing.

Earlier today I had a meeting with the deans and chairs regarding the spring 2021 schedule. The chairs described many of the teaching innovations being implemented thanks to the creative and innovative solutions advanced by their faculty. They also described how, in addition to transitioning many of your courses to a different but still effective modality, you have also had to meet the challenge of students becoming increasingly discouraged, disengaged, and anxious. What we are learning about COVID fatigue is very real. Because of this reality, I have asked the chairs to engage in a shared conversation regarding how we might build upon the successes you have already created as well as ways that we might responsibly and safely provide additional on-campus educational opportunities for our students this spring. Our students are clamoring for ways to connect with you (just as you are with them). I wish I could make this exercise a bit easier, but I recognize that no one knows the disciplinary boundaries—and ways to flex those boundaries when possible—better than the teaching faculty.

Each of the universities in the SUS has been asked to find ways to improve the on-campus experience for our students, particularly our undergraduate population. This is in part to address what I mentioned above—student disengagement and frustration with our altered educational landscape. Increasingly, current and prospective students are considering taking a “gap year” or worse, indefinitely postponing the pursuit of their educational goals. Students and their parents are, like no other time in the past, questioning both the opportunity costs of attending college (at least during the pandemic) and the return on investment of their tuition dollars. While this situation is not unique to UNF, it is particularly significant to us because we are first and foremost an institution focused on high quality teaching. As you are well aware, UNF has long prided itself (and marketed itself) as promising students a high-touch learning environment—as being a place where students get quantity and quality in terms of interaction with their professors. Thanks to your efforts, we have consistently delivered on that promise and have been rewarded with growing enrollments. Unfortunately, during times like these—when through no fault of our own we cannot fully fulfill the promise that makes us “unique”—our strength can become a weakness. I am therefore working with deans and chairs on ways to minimize a decline in enrollment.

The harsh reality is that it is clear that our goals must include establishing more communal co-curricular activities for our students as well as providing them with more face-to-face courses (conducted within the CDC guidelines). The entire UNF community has shown remarkable diligence in adhering to social distancing, getting COVID tests, and mask wearing when on campus. As a result, we have had no cases of COVID transmission in our classrooms and our infection rate is one of the lowest in the SUS (and far lower than the Jacksonville community). This is by no means discounting very real dangers; instead, it is to say that—with adequate precautions—we recognize that many of our faculty may be willing to return to face-to-face or hybrid instruction or, absent that, engaging in additional innovative ways to better connect with our students.

I have charged the chairs with reviewing the draft spring schedule with you and your college schedulers with the collective goal of creating a more expansive list of course offerings that might increase face-to-face instruction where possible and where prudent according to your needs. In order to explore the potential increase, we ask that the chairs and schedulers work with the Registrar (Chad) and University Scheduler (Jillian) to provide the data on current scheduling and classroom capacity.  We will also look to CIRT to facilitate alternative approaches to course delivery that might have potential in your discipline.

Please rest assured that while we do indeed hope to increase our face-to-face offerings in the spring and beyond, there is no mandate for you to teach in a way in which you are not comfortable. President Szymanski and I have always said that the safety of our UNF community comes first.

I thank you in advance for your support in participating in this challenging conversation.  There is some urgency to this request -- we have approximately two weeks to make our adjustments and finalize the spring schedule.  If there is anything we in Academic Affairs can do to help, please let me know.


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Karen Patterson
Interim Provost