Yasmeen Khalifa • Managing Editor
Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, many students are wondering how the upcoming fall semester will pan out and if The University of Texas at Tyler will adjust its academic calendar to accommodate the circumstances. To gauge faculty opinion, a Fall Semester Survey was sent to UT Tyler faculty, asking questions about how they prefer to conduct the semester. The Patriot Talon interviewed Dr. Colin Snider, faculty senate president and associate professor of history, via email to better understand the contents, results and effect of the survey. Though the survey does not fully determine the fate of the fall semester, it gives students and staff an idea of the popular opinion and what the semester might look like.
What was the purpose/goal of the Fall Semester Survey?
The survey was conducted as a means to begin considering/exploring options for the fall. Given health experts' concerns at the time that there would be a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks in the fall, given the high travel of students and faculty alike at that time, and given other institutions, including UT Austin, adjusting their fall semesters in an attempt to preserve the health of their students and the university community, faculty were asked what their preferences/ideas for fall were best for students, faculty, staff and the operations of the university.
Faculty Senate took the initiative on this matter after a town hall meeting where Dr. Tidwell noted such decisions most directly affected faculty and staff and that they should be at the forefront of any conversations about possible alterations to the fall schedule.
What did the contents of the survey consist of? What were the questions geared toward?
The contents focused on possible models to prevent an outbreak on campus and followed four models: the academic calendar as currently constituted with no changes [UT Tyler’s current calendar]; the academic calendar as currently constituted but with the last week of classes and final exams being conducted online so as to reduce travel and exposure to illness in the fall [UT Austin’s model]; an adjusted calendar that would start and end the semester two weeks early [Notre Dame’s model]; and an adjusted calendar that would start the semester one week early, with classes ending the week before Thanksgiving and then final exams occurring online the week after Thanksgiving (one week early) [Notre Dame’s adjusted model].
We also asked faculty about their preferences for course delivery in the fall and what their feelings were on conducting fall commencement in the event another outbreak occurred.
Tell me about the results of the survey. What were your findings? Did anything surprise you?
Faculty overwhelmingly supported maintaining the current semester schedule (August 24-December 12; Nursing: August 31-December 12) rather than starting one or two weeks early. With 258 responses, nearly 2/3 (157 votes) preferred to keep the current schedule. Of that 2/3, 70% preferred not to return after Thanksgiving break but to instead hold the last week of class and finals week online.
A significant plurality also preferred faculty be involved in the decision-making process throughout as it proceeds. These results were in line with what many suspected. Any major change to the calendar would be equally disruptive to faculty who already had courses planned, and to students alike, so it was unsurprising to see that faculty supported keeping the current schedule but also preferred not returning from Thanksgiving so as to protect the health of students, faculty and staff alike.
How will these results realistically translate to the fall semester? What effect does this survey have on students and faculty?
The survey was done primarily to get the pulse of faculty opinions and determine if decisions need to be made to change the current structure. Clearly, the overwhelming support for the current calendar (August 24-December 12 and for School of Nursing, August 31-December 12) shows that the current structure should and will remain in place. Whether to return after Thanksgiving has not yet been decided, but that is a decision that has not been made and will rest ultimately with a number of people, including SGA leadership and the administration alongside faculty.
The effect this survey has is not immediate — as I said, it was just to get a sense of faculty preferences. Any impact on students and faculty going forward will be minimal and contingent upon the development of COVID-19 in the fall semester.
What's one thing you would want students to know about the upcoming semester (based on this survey)?
The one thing I would want students to know is the same thing with or without this survey — namely, that faculty and students alike share in the health of the university, both in terms of physical health and in the providing of courses and an education that best serves students' interests and needs. I know many faculty prefer face-to-face courses and maintaining our traditional educational experience, but everybody — students and faculty alike — are also cognizant of the very real health risks that COVID-19 provides, and we are all working hard with as many groups as possible to balance the needs and wants of all of our students with their health and safety.