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March 23 Message from the Dean

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Date: March 23, 2020
To: Liberal Arts Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Post Docs
From: Clarence Lang

Dear College Colleagues:

I am happy to begin this week with a number of welcome updates, which I hope you will receive as positive news amidst a sea of change. Several of the items addressed below demonstrate the continued strength and vibrancy of shared faculty/administrative governance at Penn State, which is heartening to witness. 

Virtual College "Check-In": Penn State will hold two virtual town halls tomorrow (March 24) to provide updates and answer questions about Penn State’s response to the pandemic—one for faculty and staff at 10:00 a.m., and one for students and parents at 3:00 p.m. Both online events will be livestreamed at LiveEvents.psu.edu. The college plans to hold virtual "check-ins" with students, and faculty and staff in the near future as well. Stay tuned for more information about the scheduling and format.

Semester Course Grades: As a result of a recent special session of the University Faculty Senate, a committee of administrators and faculty will provide guidance on mechanisms through which instructors might offer students the option of "Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory" in lieu of final letter grades. Regardless of whatever decisions are made on this front, keep in mind that many of our students, like many of us, are experiencing intense personal, financial, and familial hardships in the midst of this crisis that may make it difficult for them to stay abreast of their courses—especially those who have pivoted suddenly for the first time to a remote learning environment. Those of you teaching this semester should use your best judgment in granting students leniency when you believe circumstances warrant it. 

Flagging Concerns about Students: Please be sure to use the Starfish student tracking and early warning platform to flag concerns about a student's attendance or well-being—and, if you become aware of students experiencing COVID-19 symptoms (e.g., upper respiratory infection or flu-like sickness), urge them to contact the University Health Services Advice Nurse at 814-863-4463 immediately. Please watch your email for an important survey via Starfish that will ask you to identify students who have indicated trouble with access, or who have not been present, so that the advising staff can reach out to them directly.

SRTEs: Consistent with a resolution by the Faculty Senate, Student Ratings of Teaching Effectiveness (SRTE) scores will be collected for the Spring 2020 semester, but they will not be used for evaluative purposes. Additionally, this semester's SRTE results will be sent directly to faculty members for their review but not to administrators. As an update on more routine college affairs, the Dean's Advisory Group on the Evaluation of Teaching had its first meeting late last week, during which members were formally charged with providing my office recommendations for ways to improve the teaching evaluation process. The Advisory Group will conduct its business over the remainder of this semester and into the fall.   

Tenure and Promotion: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and consistent with a number of our peer institutions, the University will extend the provisional tenure period for all faculty in their pre-tenure probationary period starting with the 2020-21 academic year. This will not count toward the University's two-stay limit. Any faculty member wanting to proceed with the tenure and promotion process at their previously scheduled time will be able to do so without having to request permission for early-tenure consideration. Reviews for tenure and promotion already underway will continue as scheduled, as these portfolios are based on work completed prior to the outbreak.

Annual Faculty Reviews: We will be receiving more University-level guidance about best approaches to this year's faculty performance reviews. In the meantime, the Dean's Office will relax existing deadlines and criteria for assessment in recognition of the disruptive effects that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on teaching, research, and service. 

As before, please continue checking Penn State’s Coronavirus Information website for regular updates. Additional resources and information for teaching, learning, and working remotely are available at the college’s Remote Resources website. I wish you all the best as we continue to adapt and move forward as a University community to meet the many challenges of the moment.  

Regards,

Clarence

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