In the last virtual faculty meeting of the term, Dean and Provost Michael Schneider responded to questions on whether faculty can expect to be teaching face-to-face classes in the Fall.
“We know enough about what the Fall will look like to know that we need to learn some things about this Spring,” Schnieder said. “Which is to say, as much as we would like to put it in the rearview mirror, the fact of the matter is we need to understand what the student experience has been.”
Schneider said it is likely Knox will make a decision about how the school will deliver Fall Term sometime during the first two weeks of June. By then, Knox should know how many students have enlisted for the Fall, what the health guidelines are for colleges and how many people the school can accommodate on campus at any one time.
Knox’s health protocols must protect the entire community and if there are concerns about whether the faculty, staff and students can meet in a safe environment. If not, then the school will have to find alternatives, Schneider said.
The Dean and Provost said that at the moment Knox is considering preparing for a hybrid model, in which some students are taking an online class but may also still spend portions of their time on campus.
“I think it would be disingenuous for me to suggest the next 12 to 18 months look significantly different from what I just described. I think it will be eked together from the tools that we have,” Schneider said. “It will not look like what we had as recently as this past winter.”
How Knox’s Executive Committee decides to maximize the number of students on campus in the Fall while still remaining safe will lean heavily upon Knox’s “flexibility,” Schneider said. Social distancing, use of space and new approaches to attendance are all notions the school will reckon with.
Once faculty know what the Executive Committee has decided Fall Term should look like, there will be a distinct emphasis on Spring course evaluations for drawing up Fall syllabuses.
When faculty first learned Spring Term would be remote, they entered an “emergency” scramble to adjust classes during the two weeks of Spring Break. To better prepare for the Fall, faculty want to understand and moderate the impact Spring Term had on students.
So far, faculty said they know the loss of access to colleagues, peers and friends has posed a major difficulty for students. Outside of social activity, when students must study and live off campus they do not have equal access to other support services like technology and counseling.
Schneider also said the school also wants to survey and establish small cohorts for faculty to discuss their Spring experience.
While Knox intends to reopen in the Fall and be on-campus to some extent, President Teresa Amott said there will always be uncertainty in regards to the virus. Knox can nail down what is within its control but must also be prepared to pivot over unpredictable matters.
“We have to remember the virus is setting the time table,” Amott said.
Other matters addressed
Besides the fate of Fall Term, faculty also discussed the option for students to choose S/U grading this Spring, a change to FP first-year advising loads, the sports practice seasons and the distribution of the school’s CARE’s Act grant money to students.
A portion of Knox students are eligible for financial support from the CARES Act, a “Higher Education Relief Fund.” Amott said that staff will spend the week of May 11 surveying how Knox students want to receive their funding, either through direct deposit or paper check.
In the week of May 25, Knox will distribute the money by need, with students from low-expected family contributions receiving higher amounts, up to $1,200.
The Executive Committee also held a straw poll to learn whether faculty approved of allowing students to decide if they want S/U grading this term after students receive their course grades.
Some faculty voiced support, saying this change would help students get across the finish line of a difficult remote term. Other faculty dissented, saying the decision would compromise the authority of the grading system and set a bad precedent. Faculty were also concerned that Executive Committee was making the final decision without a vote from faculty.
A member of Executive Committee said they would make the final decision because it was the last virtual meeting of the term and there was no time to take a vote as this virtual meeting had already faced delays due to technical difficulties. If the Executive Committee decides to allow students to change their grading system after they received their course grades, they said students will be notified in an email and advisors should make it clear that S/U is not the same as pass/fail.
47 faculty voiced support for this change in a straw poll; 25 voted against and six abstained.
Faculty discussed a change proposed by the FP Steering Committee which elected to have First-Year Preceptorial instructors also be the first year advisor for the students in their FP class. Faculty would only teach one FP section every two to three years but would have to take on 14 extra first year advisees that year.
Faculty expressed concern that the extra load would not be feasible for faculty in small departments that already share a heavy load of 30 plus advisees.
A member of the Executive Committee said this is a positive change because FP classes would then be taught by more professors, FP classes would be smaller and that research shows it is beneficial to first year students to have their FP professor be their advisor.
The Athletics Committee touched on their proposition to change how Knox manages its nontraditional sports season. A member of the committee said it is currently the Spring practice time for Fall sports and the Fall practice time for Spring sports.
Under this change, instead of the typical four week window with a 20 hour activity limit per week, the new nontraditional season would expand to five weeks, include 16 “dates” of approximately two hours each and add contests to baseball, softball, soccer and volleyball.
This change could add 12 more hours of activity to the season but the committee member emphasized that no nontraditional activity can cause students to miss class. They also emphasized the change could help recruit prospective student athletes looking at other colleges that allow for more hours of season activity, maintain current student athlete retention and simplify the current system of keeping track of hours.
The Athletics Committee also announced they would like to support St. Norbert College’s bid to become an affiliate member of Knox’s Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Conference. St. Norbert College already competes in Knox’s swimming conference but is moving into a new NCAA conference that does not include swimming and diving.