A message to faculty and staff on the university's in-person mission
From: Cyril Clarke, executive vice president and provost, and Chris Kiwus, interim senior vice president and chief business officer
Thank you for the extraordinary manner in which you have sustained university operations over the last two years despite the many challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, conversion of courses from in-person to online instruction was necessary to mitigate health safety risk resulting from face-to-face transmission of disease. This was done to address extenuating circumstances, primarily at a time when community members did not yet have an opportunity to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and when the risk of contracting serious disease was higher. As we move forward with the expectation that COVID-19 will present risks more in line with those of an endemic disease than those of a pandemic, we are reaffirming the importance of in-person interactions in the accomplishment of the university’s mission.
While there are many examples of success that were achieved by online delivery of instruction, the virtual learning environment also resulted in a number of significant challenges. Included among these were negative impacts on the mental health of students, decreased engagement of students in their learning and personal development, and a degradation of cooperative learning among students. There was also a loss of hands-on experiences involving laboratories and fieldwork, an increase in academic integrity cases, and a lack of student access to remote learning technologies and spaces. Challenges such as these were not limited to the instructional mission, but also impacted accomplishment of the research and outreach missions, co-curricular opportunities for students, and the university’s ability to deliver student and employee services and maintain our facilities infrastructure.
To meet Virginia Tech’s commitment to Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), we anticipate integrating virtual work and online programming across educational, research, and outreach missions, but this must be implemented in accordance with the university’s strategic plan and will be informed by the Future of Work pilot efforts. Furthermore, Virginia Tech has developed a reputation for excellence in the delivery of in-person programs and student engagement, and while we anticipate that virtual technologies will be used to strengthen program delivery in future, our commitment to in-person work and instruction is unwavering.
Consequently, unless an employee’s job duties specifically indicate that virtual work is appropriate to the task and approved as such, including approval of a telework agreement, the expectation is that work be performed in-person. If an employee is unable to perform in-person work because of a permanent or temporary disability, the Office for Equity and Accessibility will engage in the interactive process to identify a reasonable accommodation, but there should be no assumption that the accommodation will be to convert a course from in-person to online. Similarly, reasonable accommodations involving other mission areas will be in accordance with the university’s commitment to in-person learning, research, and outreach.
Thank you again for your commitment to excellence at Virginia Tech during what has been one of the most challenging times for all institutions of higher learning. By conducting our work in a manner that makes the most of the unique strengths of Virginia Tech, particularly in-person teaching and research, we will continue the progress we have made as a world-class, land-grant university in the service of our students.