COVID-19 Updates
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COVID-19 — Academic Accommodations & Faculty Guidance

March 8, 2020

Dear faculty colleagues,

We recognize the emerging COVID-19 (coronavirus) public health concern is creating a great deal of uncertainty for our campus community. As this global situation evolves, our goals remain the same — to take care of our community members in need and to ensure minimal disruption to our educational mission through contingency planning.

As spring break approaches, we encourage you to consider how travel plans could be affected by the spread of the virus and urge you not to travel to countries that have been designated as CDC Level 2 and 3. Please take precautions and monitor the UT Restricted Regions list if you are going to travel internationally. 

We are currently developing plans to maintain the continuity of the educational experience for students and faculty members who, for reasons related to COVID-19, will not be able to return to campus. This includes students returning from study abroad in regions of concern who will be in self-isolation.

During this challenging time, we ask you to be supportive of our students. Throughout our university’s history, faculty members have demonstrated great understanding and compassion for our students during times of need, and I thank you for continuing to support them now.

I am writing today to share guidance on accommodations that faculty members can make to support students and to manage teaching needs in the coming weeks. 

Academic Accommodation Process

Given current guidance from the CDC to avoid medical offices, faculty members should provide academic accommodations to students requesting them without requiring “doctor’s note” documentation for COVID-19 concerns. I realize this is typically a judgment faculty members are empowered to make, but under these extraordinary circumstances, we are requiring faculty to work with students to make a reasonable accommodation.

To receive an academic accommodation for issues related to COVID-19, students have been asked to submit a request through Student Emergency Services. Students have been provided instructions about how to make this request, but if students contact you, please remind them to do so. After students have submitted the request, faculty members will receive a notification with the names and information of their students who have requested accommodation.

This process applies to ALL students — undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, professional and law students.

Types of Academic Accommodation

Faculty members have broad discretion to make accommodations for students in response to the COVID-19 situation. Although faculty members cannot alter the grading policy for their courses, they can make accommodations for demonstration of engagement/participation or alter the weighting of assignments to account for a students’ circumstances.

Other examples of faculty accommodations for students who are sick or in self-isolation due to COVID-19 concerns include, but are not limited to:

  • Creating online options for students to participate remotely. This can be done through ZOOM or other platforms provisioned by your college or school. Learn more about alternative methods to continue instruction.  
  • Providing online office hours via Canvas, email or phone. You can also allow for course discussions and class contributions via Canvas.
  • Assigning a note taker to share information with students who are not able to attend in person. This person can post notes on Canvas or through other online channels.
  • Extending deadlines for assignments, if possible.
  • Creating a curve to adjust for reduced performance by the class relative to historical norms.
  • Give special consideration for students in their final semester who intend to graduate in May and whose class performance may have been impacted by COVID-19 issues.  Their grades this semester will determine whether they meet requirements for graduation. Before assigning a non-passing grade to a student who is affected by COVID-19 and intends to graduate, please work with the student to ensure he or she has the opportunity to complete the course.
  • Scheduling remote thesis/dissertation meetings for graduate students who are sick or in self-isolation.
  • Reminding graduate students they can submit their final paperwork required for graduation by mail. Most students visit their office for this purpose and may not be aware of the mail option.  

Sick & Self-isolating Faculty

If a faculty member is ill due to COVID-19 concerns, unable to work or is working part time due to illness, then he or she should use sick leave for the hours of work that are missed. Faculty members who self-isolate are encouraged to communicate with their unit’s (department’s or college/school’s) HR contact to ensure coverage for missed classes and meetings. If a faculty member’s department (or host unit) becomes aware of a possible need for Family Medical Leave, he or she should notify HR, which will send relevant information to the faculty member. Information summarizing sick leave and related policies for faculty members can be found here.

If a faculty member self-isolates due to possible exposure to the COVID-19 illness (although the faculty member is not symptomatic and is able to work), he or she should endeavor to teach and meet with students and colleagues remotely. Faculty members are encouraged to immediately consult with their department, program chair or the Dean’s Office to identify relevant resources, expectations and information for working remotely. Faculty members should also immediately notify supervisors, students, staff members and faculty members of their plans to work remotely, as well as their plans for covering missed class sessions, office hours and meetings.

Continuity of Classes Through Online Options

Although at this time the threat of COVID-19 does not necessitate a widespread transition to online classwork at UT, we are taking steps to ensure the campus is prepared in the event we need to do so. If we do reach that juncture, you can expect information and direction on how to implement the necessary changes. Faculty members should not transition to online classwork without first receiving direction from the UT administration.\

The Faculty Innovation Center has information and guidance about teaching remotely using technologies such as Canvas and ZOOM. ZOOM can be used to host meetings with multiple participants and is able to record class and meeting conversations.

International Travel Booking — Policy Update

Effective March 6, 2020, all international university-related travel must be booked by the UT Austin contracted travel agents or Concur UT’s online booking tool.

Given the evolving situation with COVID-19 (coronavirus) and in an effort to protect employees’ health and financial interests, travel to CDC Level 2 and 3 travel advisory locations for coronavirus is restricted. Travel to these areas will require authorization from the International Oversight Committee as well as additional university authorities. Travelers will be required to forward their International Oversight Committee approval letter to the travel agencies prior to airfare issuance.

Information about business travel-related reimbursements for trips canceled or postponed will be shared when those details are available.

Expect Additional Guidance – Give Feedback

We will continue to share more guidance and information with faculty members and the campus community as the circumstances evolve. If there are topics you feel are not being addressed, please share them with us at provost.office@utexas.edu.

I want to continue to stress the importance of regular hand-washing and other preventive measures. And if you are feeling ill, it is important to stay home from class, events and your workplace. Preventive actions you should take include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Use verbal forms of greeting in lieu of handshaking.

Thank you for all you are doing for our students and for one another during this challenging time. You can expect more information as it becomes available.

Sincerely,

Maurie McInnis