Dear faculty:

As you start delivering Virginia Tech’s educational programs online, I want you to know how impressed and appreciative I am of all that you have done to serve our students and support each other.

This is not what we thought we would be doing at the start of this semester. I was particularly excited about your progress in advancing experiential learning involving study abroad, undergraduate research, design and field projects, and internships. For now, most of these must be set aside for future development.

Instead, you have been called upon to convert your current courses, enriched by the personal interaction with students that is a mark of excellence at Virginia Tech, to online formats and to accomplish this task within a period of just two weeks. Faced with this challenge, you have done remarkably well through your hard work, collaborative spirit and the support of many colleagues in TLOS and other college- and university-level support units. I recognize that you are disappointed that you will not be able to teach and mentor your students in the manner that you had planned, and I know that your students are disappointed too. However, I also know that you remain committed to their education and I am confident that these students will appreciate your efforts.

Through the work of many across the campus, we have tried to identify and prepare for challenges that may arise as you deliver your instruction online, but I expect that there will be unanticipated circumstances that will require our attention.  Please notify your departmental offices if such circumstances arise, and know that your colleagues in the Provost’s Office stand ready to assist.

We anticipate that the shift to online instruction will be academically and logistically challenging for some students. To address this concern, we are implementing temporary revisions in the grading system to allow students, at the end of the semester, to choose between the usual A-F grading system and an alternative one that protects their GPA and also supports the university’s existing progress to degree requirements and financial aid guidelines. The details of the grading system will be announced later today.

As you commit your time and attention to the education of our students, I do not want you to worry about the potential impacts of COVID-19 on your career progression. Virginia Tech already has the policies necessary to extend the tenure clock, and the Provost’s Office will be supportive of requests to approve such extensions for faculty who are negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Also, we realize that the change in instructional format may negatively impact student evaluations of instruction. Although we do need to continue conducting course evaluations to meet accreditation requirements, these will be annotated and will not be allowed to disadvantage faculty instructional performance records. Please keep in mind that Virginia Tech cannot achieve its aspirations and accomplish its missions without talented faculty. It would make no sense at all if the university allowed circumstances related to COVID-19 to result in a failure to develop and retain such talent.

Our planning and actions thus far have been calibrated to achieve the goal of protecting the health and safety of our community while sustaining our core educational, research, and outreach programs, and preserving our ability to return to full capacity as soon as possible. This will continue to be our goal, even if we need to adopt stricter measures to manage COVID-19 in the event Governor Northam determines further actions are required. While we hope that such an action will not be necessary, we are already planning for that possibility.

Thank you again for your committed service to our students. You have my complete confidence and my support.

Sincerely,
Cyril