Reflections on the First Week

Over my 30-plus years in higher education, I have always looked forward to the start of a new academic year, but generally with a modicum of anxiety. As a faculty member, questions like these were on my mind: What will my students be like? Have I sufficiently prepared? Can I find enough time to stay on plan with my scholarship? As an administrator, these questions were at the fore: What will our retention and graduation rate look like at census? Can I keep my unit on track with our goals in this tight budgetary climate? Will I have time to review my doctoral student’s manuscript drafts?

In this unprecedented moment, new questions presented. Will our students re-enroll? Do the faculty have the tools they need to deliver via their course modality? Is the campus safe?

Last Sunday (August 23) I confess to a fitful sleep wondering what the next day would bring and at what time my email inbox would start to light up. As I drove in that next morning, I squelched negative thinking, leaning on the belief that good people had planned well, students remained at the center of our mission even when not physically present, and perhaps this was a first step on something akin to a pathway to normalcy. I hope this short description of key moments in my week provide a window into the resilience and commitment of the WP community.

Monday: Receive word that 1600 Valley Road is uneven in its classroom readiness. Drive over to join the Deans of Education and Business on a walk through and see the fruits of their leadership, and with great support from Physical Plant Operations, realize full readiness by the next morning. In the afternoon, supportively, but assertively, remind a few students to have their masks over both mouth and nose and they quickly comply. That evening, converse with Sue Tardi on where issues were addressed today and continue our collaboration on a new electronic portfolio submission tool for faculty reappointment reviews.

Tuesday: Hear report that a faculty member is teaching without a mask in a Raubinger classroom. Grab an extra mask to provide to the instructor as a gift and find the faculty member wearing one. Engage with Deans and Human Resources to understand the specifics of the Families First Act so we can optimally work with faculty and staff with school and child care challenges. Learn about the amazing ways campus units, departments, and individual faculty are being responsive to student requests for remote learning and seeing it manifest in a substantive improvement in enrollment since yesterday. Tour the Library that evening and feel the pride of the staff in the work they did to open this week.

Wednesday: Attend Cabinet meeting and remain in awe of Jill Guzman and Charles Lowe who lead our pandemic response effort. Not sure when they sleep. Receive email from a faculty member expressing appreciation for my detailed guidance on topics such as the new student attendance process in Banner and how much they are pleased to be back teaching, despite the moment. Warms my heart. Another day’s improvement in enrollment.

Thursday: Have email exchange with Muri Natrajan, Chair of the Faculty Senate, and find myself inspired by his deep commitment to faculty, particularly with retention, tenure, and promotion, and the sharpening of the document stemming from helpful Senate input in May and over the summer. Rehearse with President Helldobler for the University Address on September 3. Appreciative of his leadership at this challenging time and his commitment to diversity and inclusion that is strongly embedded in his remarks.

Friday: Participate in the weekly enrollment huddle-up with a number of key administrators and staff on campus. Retention continues to trend positive; excited by what is building for census. Zero reported cases of COVID on campus from the Campus Dashboard. Close my day by listening to our amazing music students sing the first installment of Songs for a New World.

Much remains ahead for us to navigate. But I am reminded of the often quoted admonition to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I wish everyone the very best as they navigate uncertainty with the principles of empathic listening and reflective action.
Academic News

As faculty settle into the semester, a few important reminders:

Class attendance – Please take attendance. It is required for 1000-level courses and we desire for all, regardless of modality (i.e., on-campus or online), to do so for its benefit to contact tracing. It is also the required new means by which all faculty must do enrollment confirmation (be watching for a message from the Registrar’s Office). Updated summary guidance is posted to the Provost’s Office website, and here is the short video that explains how it is done simply in Banner.

Early assessment required of faculty teaching 1000-level courses – Faculty Senate passed a resolution last spring that “One graded assessment must be given and entered by the end of the 4th week of classes.” Banner will be the place where such grades are entered by no later than September 18. Directions for how to do this through WP Connect are posted to the Provost’s Office website. Most importantly, best practice with early assessments for freshmen is to provide them timely feedback with insights not only on what they did not do well or correctly, but on what they did do well or correctly. Hence, take the time to include comment on the positive, remembering how you felt when you got your first feedback from a college professor.

Learning support center visit by students in 1000-level courses – Faculty Senate also passed a resolution this past spring expecting 1000-level faculty to integrate an assignment for students to visit at least one learning support center by the midpoint of the semester (October 9). All of the support centers are ready for your students to visit either in person or virtually. Details on how they can do so are posted to the Provost’s Office website. The Centers have also coordinated to provide you data on who attended from your course thanks to a new University ID check-in system used for both in-person and virtual visits.
Facts & Figures

From the 2020-21 Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac:

  • U.S. improvement in college degree attainment since 2003: 10.7 percentage points.
  • Among 30 western countries, 18 had a higher rate of improvement than the U.S., and the U.S. currently ranks 8th.
  • 36 million Americans started college but left with no degree.
“Optimize for as many human touchpoints as possible.”

Sal Kahn, CEO of Kahn Academy, when asked in an NPR interview what one piece of advice he would give teachers struggling to connect with their students.

“Asking for help is a sign of strength.”

Provost Powers’ advice to tell students.
The Provost’s Office is Meg, Lissette, Claudia T., Claudia C., Kara, Jonathan, Sandy, and Josh. You can reach us at 973.720.2122 •
We may be working remotely, but we are accessible to you! 
Office of the Provost | 973.720.2122 |