The Chancellor’s Virtual Town Hall: Reflecting on Challenges and Opportunities
The Town Hall occurred on April 21. These were the answers provided on that date. Please refer to the Coronavirus FAQ page for the most up-to-date information.
Due to the time limitation, not all of these questions were answered “live” during the Town Hall. Here are all of the questions and Chancellor’s Haefner’s responses.
When will we decide about Commencement ceremonies? And if the event is online, how will we ensure that it is special for our graduates who have worked so hard?
It breaks my heart to imagine holding a virtual commencement. Though June 12 and 13 are still a couple of months away, we will make a decision by no later than May 15. No matter what, we will work very hard to ensure that our graduates have a special and memorable experience to honor their years of hard work at DU.
When will we decide about the format for summer school?
We will also decide this no later than May 15. Eighty percent of DU’s summer classes already are delivered online. If we can’t be on campus for the full summer, we might be able to push some of our lab-oriented classes to later in the summer, so those can hopefully be offered face-to-face. But we still don’t know what the state of things will be by late spring or early summer.
What about the fall? When will you decide about online vs. face-to-face?
I’d really like to see our Class of 2024 be physically on campus from the start. We’re set to open the Dimond Family Residential Village this fall. The Burwell Center for Career Achievement also will open in the fall. And I’d love to see all our students experience the Community Commons—our brand new student union—which will open in the first half of 2021. We’ll decide no later than July 15, in order for us to have as much data as we can, and to watch the trends. Is the virus receding? Will there be another resurgence? But no matter when we return to campus, we will probably have to make some adjustments in terms of physical distancing and less density.
What about fall study abroad?
We know that students are eager to make their plans, so we will make this decision by May 1. Of course, any decision we make will have to be made and carried out in the context of global travel restrictions that will likely be changing unpredictably in this next academic year.
Will we reduce tuition, especially if online teaching continues?
We understand that tuition is of paramount concern; and appreciate that there are new and wholly unanticipated financial pressure for our DU families, regardless of individual circumstances. Whether you receive grants or loans, or have been able in the past to manage tuition bills without support, the cost of a DU education is significant.
Unfortunately, like most other colleges and universities, we have concluded that it is not possible for us to reduce tuition. Though we recognize that distance learning presents obstacles to the well-rounded college experience students receive on campus, we continue to deliver the high-quality educational experience you have come to expect from the University of Denver, and the value of a DU degree is in no way diminished in the marketplace.
To help mitigate new financial circumstance, our Student Assistance Fund provides support to students who are unable to meet immediate, essential expenses because of a temporary, unexpected hardship. Our Office of Financial Aid also works with students and families who have experienced pay reductions and job losses, and may be able to provide additional assistance through their appeal process.
How are we maintaining consistent quality and value?
Our faculty and staff are maintaining excellence and showing great creativity to ensure that students’ “synchronous” in-class time is enhanced and supplemented with online content, discussions, activities, assignments, office hours, and group work. Our students continue to receive all the usual support, from Academic Advising, Campus Life, University Libraries, Information Technology, the Health and Counseling Center, and more. And new online social programming is keeping our community engaged. We also hope to alleviate a tremendous amount of stress for students by offering them the option to choose a Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass option for grading in the spring 2020 quarter.
How is DU supporting students enrolled in the Learning Effectiveness Program (LEP) or who have neuro-diverse needs? For them, online learning may be an even more significant hurdle that impacts their social and academic experience?
Because of our low student-to-faculty ratio, our faculty can support the needs of all of our students even at a distance. For example, they are able to adjust with asynchronous delivery, adjusting deadlines, working one-on-one with students, and more.
How are graduate students being intentionally supported during this time, beyond Pass/Fail?
The Office of Graduate Education and the individual academic units provide academic and advising support to graduate students. In addition, our Programming Council (through Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence), serves graduate as well as undergraduate students with a wide range of health-and-wellness and engagement opportunities. Any student who needs additional support can access services by submitting a referral through Student Outreach and Support (SOS).
Winter quarter also was very stressful, especially with the short notice to moving finals online. Access to counselors and additional services were impacted and continue to be. Could the Pass/Fail be offered for winter quarter?
It’s is not possible to set up Pass/Fail retroactively. Most of our students are in the quarter system and the grading for the quarter was well underway before we moved online in March. Our standard policy regarding grade appeals remains in effect. Should a student find that there are problems of process in grading (rather than differences in judgement or opinion concerning academic performance) they may consider a grade appeal.
How many students live on campus now and how are we supporting them?
Approximately 200 students remain on campus now, including some of our resident assistants. While respecting physical distancing, we are engaging our residents through Housing and Residential Education (HRE) programming as well as with the programming council, so they are not totally isolated. Food service is offered for take-out. Our staff keeps their halls safe and clean. Ras and HRE staff check in on students to make sure they are feeling connected and engaged.
It is reported that DU students have been gathering in large numbers in the neighborhood around campus. Can DU institute and enforce a policy to stop behavior that might keep the virus going?”
I appreciate your question, and also your concern about the wide impacts of people who ignore the public good. Of course, that’s contrary to our values; but I don’t think we can enforce a policy per se. We’ve been really clear about the need for all of our community members to follow guidelines on social distancing. At this point, everyone should also be wearing masks when they’re in public, and unfortunately many people are still out in the streets and parks with their faces uncovered. We have to follow the guidelines for flattening the curve, or yes, it will slow our return to normal, not just at DU, but across Denver and Colorado.
How are you preparing to test/trace/isolate students, faculty and staff once everybody gets back to campus?
We know things will be different when we are allowed back to campus. We probably will have restrictions on how many people can gather in one place. By next week we will announce our process for appointing a number of task forces that will begin planning for fall logistics as well as many other longer-term considerations. It’s important to come out of this crisis stronger than we went in.
With all the other pressures front-and-center, how are you addressing inequities on campus, especially the concerns from the Native American community?
In February, I issued a letter that made our intentions public—to ensure that Native American students, staff, faculty, alumni, and communities are able to benefit fully from the education, programs, and scholarship that DU offers. The coronavirus has made us even more aware of the importance of putting equity at the forefront of every decision we make; and continuing the work we have started. We won’t rest until DU is an equitable, welcoming place for every member of this community.
What new obstacles is COVID-19 presenting for Title IX investigations and accountability? How do you plan to address them?"
There’s no question that it is challenging for students to share their stories from a distance; but our Title IX work continues without interruption. We have established a remote process for continuing the work of the Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX, including conducting investigations, presenting trainings, and fielding new reports. On the programming side, our peer educators and student groups continue to be very active on social media and with digital educational opportunities especially during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Will DU have to furlough employees? Can you offer any assurances to faculty and staff?
Of course, we value our staff and faculty, and are doing everything we can to preserve our workforce. We are grateful, thanks to everyone who participated in the planning and execution of our fourth-quarter efforts, to be ending fiscal year 2020 in good shape. We were able to offset a very sizable loss of revenue with a very sizable recovery of some expenses when we asked the campus to freeze hiring, cut back on expenses, and to curtail all-but-essential capital projects. We will work hard to address the next round of economic uncertainty as soon as we can through our task forces that will be announced net week.
What is the timeframe for making the next set of decisions about financial pressure?
We are running various financial models based on many unknown factors, such as summer and fall enrollments. Our Board of Trustees meets later this week, and we’ll be looking at the budget very closely. Next week we will be announcing the creation of Task Forces to tackle different dimensions of our present- and future-scenario planning. We will communicate with our community frequently throughout the next months as the task forces dive into this important work.
How will the budget impact the hiring of key positions such as the vice provost of inclusive excellence and the dean of the engineering school?
As I announced on April 6 to the community, we will continue our national search for the vice provost in the fall. In the meantime, we are seeking internal nominations for an interim to begin serving on July 1. The search for the dean of the Ritchie School will also proceed with the goal to have this leadership position filled as quickly as possible.
Given how hard it has been for employees to take time off during the crisis, can DU consider making temporary changes to how employees carry over their vacation time?
That’s an excellent question. I will ask Jerron Lowe, our interim vice chancellor for Human Resources and Inclusive Excellence, to look into this issue.
Now that we’ve seen that employees can effectively work from home, might more of that be allowed even after the crisis passes?
Another good question to explore in the future. But because the needs of our students come first—and we are here to deliver a high-quality academic and co-curricular experience—I am inclined to believe that most of our employees need to be on campus to ensure that we come through on our promises.
Some non-traditional students find online learning preferable to a rigid on-campus schedule. What alternative strategies could you consider for the future?
After the crisis, it is likely that DU and other universities will rethink many of our approaches and structures. It is too early to know how we will evolve, but we definitely are learning a lot more about different learning styles and ways to deliver education creatively and effectively.