I am writing to clarify information about our fall operating procedures and to answer some questions about classroom teaching.
First, let me thank everyone for a strong first week of classes. As you know, we are operating under rules established by the University System of Georgia (USG) for all public universities this fall. USG’s authority is delegated by the Board of Regents, which has the legal authority through the Georgia Constitution to set policies and procedures for all state universities. Although Georgia State may not require face masks or vaccines on our campuses given USG policy, we have engaged in a powerful campaign to educate our community on the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing masks in public settings.
I am pleased to report that this campaign is working. We have seen an increase in the number of individuals seeking vaccinations on campus in recent weeks, and we are seeing widespread use of masks in our community. In a recent count in our student centers, we found approximately 90 percent mask use with a traffic count of more than 80,000 people. This kind of compliance is a testament to the strength of our community and our commitment to keeping each other as safe as possible in these challenging times. Thank you so much to everyone for your efforts.
Class Modality Changes
I am continuing to field questions about whether instructors may change an in-person class to an online modality. I understand the desire for flexibility, but USG policy is very clear that changes are allowed only in very limited circumstances.
It is critical that everyone understand the importance of continuing to teach in your assigned modality. We have more than 2,500 instructors on our campuses and more than 12,000 course sections this fall. Students who register for in-person instruction are expecting it and will be in our classrooms. In this highly complex environment, it is not possible for each instructor to make an individual decision about whether their classes will be taught in person or online based on their own assessment of risk.
We have significant evidence from the last year that some of our students struggle in online modalities and do not achieve good academic outcomes. We have developed substantial supports and interventions based on the premise of in-person instruction. Unauthorized decisions by individual instructors to change class modality interfere with these efforts and diminish the effectiveness of our programs.
We must comply with USG directives and deliver in-person instruction as scheduled. Refusal to teach in-person may impact employment and be grounds for action by the University. As recognized by the American Association of University Professors in its COVID 19 Pandemic Resources: Guide to Campus Operations, “academic freedom does not include the right to disregard university policies concerning modes of instruction[.]” Thank you for your understanding and assistance with this.
We are able to grant modality changes in the following two circumstances:
- Permanent Modality Changes
A permanent change will be authorized when an instructor is granted an accommodation for a disability through the formal Americans with Disabilities process. The process is outlined here at this link. Instructors must continue to teach in their assigned modality unless and until the university completes the interactive process and concludes that an accommodation is necessary by law.
- Temporary Modality Changes
A temporary change will be authorized when an instructor tests positive or needs to quarantine under CDC guidelines. Instructors may request a modality shift using this form, which must be approved by your department chair, dean and the Provost’s Office: provost.gsu.edu/course-modality. The length of the modality shift may only last as long as the need for quarantine.
Notification of Student Positive Results in Your Class
When a student notifies you they have tested positive for COVID-19, you should direct them to stay home and report the condition on the voluntary reporting form. You also are strongly encouraged to report the infection on that site. The university will engage in contact tracing and notify those in the class who have been in close contact with the infected individual. Close contact is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as having been within six feet of an infected individual for fifteen minutes for more.
We will send a separate notice to you as the instructor so you are aware of an infection in your class. This general notification does not mean you were exposed to COVID-19. You will be specifically notified if you were a close contact of the student and need to quarantine.
Students seeking an excused absence on the grounds of illness or quarantine should submit documentation of medical need when available to the Office of the Dean of Students through the online form located at:
https://deanofstudents.gsu.edu/student-assistance/professor-absence-notification/. Instructors will be notified by the Dean of Students office staff and students will not need to submit any paperwork to individual professors. You should be prepared to accommodate students who are required to go into quarantine or isolation, but students must submit all the necessary details through the online form to the Office of the Dean of Students. Absences for reasons other than illness or the need to quarantine should not be sent to the Dean of Students and should be resolved by the instructor at their discretion.
Once again, thank you for all that you do for our students and our community during this challenging time. We will continue to work together to create the safest environment possible under the circumstances. Please take care of yourselves and each other.
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs