August 17, 2021
Welcome to Fall 2021. As we begin another semester – one that will pose some unique challenges as we return to in-person teaching and learning – I want to share some initial guidance and resources as we support each other and our students with patience and compassion.
Once again, I want to thank each and every one of you for all that you have done for our students over the past 18 months. You have been outstanding and USC would not have been as successful as we were throughout the pandemic if it wasn’t for your work, done in collaboration with our tremendous staff. Over the past 18 months, many of you have experienced significant challenges while at the same time helping our students navigate their own paths. We recognize and appreciate this effort.
I have been energized and delighted to work with my colleagues in person once again, and I hope that reengaging with our Trojan community on our beautiful campus, you will feel the same way. Our return to campus is possible because of the effective vaccines that can protect us.
We have instituted numerous stringent health measures that we are confident will keep our campus safe. The testing and masking requirements, cleaning protocols, and perimeter access checkpoints are just a few of those.
Faculty Wellness and FAQ. Our academic and health teams, in partnership with others across campus, have developed a comprehensive FAQ to answer questions you may have and guide you through some of the situations this semester may present, such as what happens if you have a student who tests positive for COVID, how to deal with a student or colleague who refuses to wear their mask and PPE questions. If you yourself become ill or need to self-isolate, please contact your department or program head. Please read the FAQ at this link.
Faculty and Staff Webinar. Last Thursday, we presented a one-hour webinar for USC faculty and staff with Senior Vice President of Human Resources Felicia Washington, Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman, Environmental Health & Safety Executive Director Deona Willes, and Facilities Planning and Management Executive Director Chris Toomey. We presented information about the return to campus and answered some of your questions. You can view the webinar at this link.
Our normal P/NP policy has returned. We made several extensions and accommodations over the last three semesters to support our students’ continued academic progress as we navigated the pandemic. This semester, the deadline for students to choose Pass/No Pass is September 10 and the deadline for them to drop a class without a W is September 10. See a complete set of dates and deadlines here.
Free speech and academic freedom. Our students are returning from a pandemic-induced lockdown with renewed focus on important social and global issues. As students reacclimate to the in-person experience, we can anticipate intense discussions as students learn and debate issues – which is precisely what we want to occur at our university. At the same time, we encourage you to facilitate conversations in the classroom and across campus in a manner that fosters compassion and civil dialogue. You may refer to our Mission Statement, Code of Ethics, and Statement on Free Speech for foundational guidance. The Center for Excellence in Teaching has developed a checklist to help facilitate challenging discussions that you may find useful.
Please be flexible with students with health concerns. Even though we are prepared to rebuild the campus experience that so many want, we can only do so by following the practices that will help to keep us safe. This includes asking students to stay home if they are ill or need to self-isolate. Students feeling unwell may feel compelled to come to class in spite of their illness to avoid missing an exam, incurring an unexcused absence, or to avoid the feeling that they are falling behind their classmates. To this end, a formal medical excuse will not be required for any student illnesses such as COVID or influenza that, while not necessarily requiring medical care, should preclude that student from entering the classroom.
Given our understandable caution, we will likely see more students absent from class than usual. This may include international students who are having trouble arriving here by the start of classes. I ask that we practice flexibility and understanding around these absences, while providing continuity of education to support the academic progress of students who are following university protocols. Please keep absent students up to date with class materials by sharing lecture notes, providing recordings of lectures (if available), or assigning them additional or alternative readings and exercises.
Our return to on-campus learning offers a unique opportunity to reinvigorate our students’ classroom experience. After more than a year of remote—often asynchronous—classes, let’s find creative ways to engage fully with our students as we come together in person. It is vital that we cultivate a dynamic on-campus academic environment—that we are not merely asking students to return to the classroom as audience members, but as active participants.
Continued guidance. We will continue to share information, guidance, and resources. For additional questions or concerns, I recommend you contact your department or dean’s office. You may also reach out to my office at email@example.com.
I have a renewed sense of enthusiasm as the semester starts. There is an energy building and I look forward to a healthy and engaging semester. Thank you for all you continue to accomplish.
Charles F. Zukoski
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs