During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of higher education. Universities across the country have adjusted and adapted to advance their academic mission and serve their communities.
Faculty members have been no exception.
Faculty members were dramatically affected, both personally and professionally. Many were forced to pause groundbreaking research and scholarship. Labs were shut down. Domestic and international travel stopped. Teaching, research and learning were flipped upside down to hybrid and online modalities. Graduate and undergraduate students needed more of their support. Typical structures that support their personal and family commitments outside of work were shut down.
The long-term implications these changes can have on a professional year in academia cannot be understated.
At UT Austin, it is a top priority to support faculty members as they resume and work to expedite their research and scholarship endeavors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The university made many efforts to help those most negatively affected by COVID-19.
- The Research Reboot program offers a semester of course release to support revitalization of research, scholarship and creative activity trajectories of tenured and tenure‑track assistant and associate professors. The purpose of this program is to support those most professionally affected by the pandemic. At the discretion of some colleges and schools, faculty members may receive summer discretionary funding instead of the course release.
- The Transformational Online Instruction Contributions awards were created to acknowledge the impressive efforts of our professional (non-tenure-track) instructional faculty and staff through their creation of impressive pedagogical resources for the transformation of online instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- COVID-19 Professional Impact Statements were added as an option for all faculty to include in their annual and P&T review materials. The statement should document the effects that the pandemic has had on workload and professional opportunities and can be shared with review committees to contextualize the faculty members’ professional performance and contributions. The statement does not require disclosure of any personal information and can be submitted by any affected faculty member.
- COVID-19-related probationary period extensions allowed all tenure-track faculty membes to extend their probationary period for one year due to the negative impacts of COVID-19.
- The Personal Circumstances Flag was created to offer tenured and professional/non-tenure-track faculty members the opportunity to designate a year within the scope of a multiyear review as having been affected by personal circumstances. This flag can be used for COVID-19 circumstances and circumstances unrelated to COVID-19.
- Significant effort has also been invested in helping faculty members with the logistics of resuming their research and scholarship through the Research Restart initiative, which includes a toolkit and detailed FAQs.
- The OnRamps Office developed workshops to prepare and support online instruction course design and implementation for the spring 2021 semester. Faculty members were grouped with colleagues in similar course structures (lecture, seminar, lab, etc.), and several sessions were reserved for assistant instructors and teaching assistants.
- The Faculty Innovation Center (FIC) created The Commons, a community webpage with resources created by the FIC as well as teaching and learning partners across campus (instructors and other campus organizations such as Services for Students with Disabilities and UT Libraries) to support instructors in online/hybrid course planning.
- The FIC and the Provost’s Teaching Fellows collaborated on a special Online Teaching Daysevent in July for instructors to watch their colleagues teach and talk with one another about their teaching successes and struggles. The spring version of this event was held in early February.
- Child care has proved to be a major challenge for faculty members. In response to school and day care closures, the university partnered with organizations to make child care more accessible.
- Every faculty and staff member has access to Bright Horizons Back-Up Care. This program helps arrange high-quality care with an in-home care provider or in one of our centers with enhanced COVID-19 protocols. Each eligible employee receives 10 daysof Back-Up Care per year. You also have the option to secure care from within your personal network (a neighbor, friend, or babysitter) with a reimbursement of $100 per day up to the 10 days of care available per year.
- Lifecare is a free service available to all UT benefits-eligible employees and, among other services, can provide information about and personalized referrals for child and elder care providers. Faculty members and their eligible dependents can use the services as often as needed. The only required costs are the fees associated with the providers or resources selected. Find more information here.
- More options for child care can be found here.
Although this year has changed the way UT Austin approaches research and academia, together, these new efforts will help the university build a more inclusive and supportive environment for faculty members — an environment that prioritizes health and safety while helping pave a path forward for all.