Dear faculty:

Starting a little more than a week ago, Virginia Tech converted its entire curriculum to online delivery. Approximately 2,400 instructors are now teaching about 4,500 sections via Canvas, Zoom and other distance learning systems. Academic advising and student support programs are also now being delivered electronically, with over 2,700 online appointments scheduled through the Navigate platform last week. The number of students living on campus was reduced from over 10,000 to approximately 800, thus allowing single occupancy accommodation of the remaining students, and student dining services have been limited to pick-up and delivery.

These actions and many more are designed to mitigate the health risk posed by COVID-19 and would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of faculty and staff.  While not everything has gone smoothly – for example, some students do not have adequate access to the internet – you nevertheless have enabled Virginia Tech to continue to educate students in the face of adversity. Well done and thank you!

As you adapt your instruction to online platforms, please be flexible when you encounter students who are having difficulty navigating distance learning from home environments that present many competing challenges. It is also important that you take into account the challenges that you are managing, such as childcare and support of friends and family in need, and the additional time commitments involved in converting your instruction to online.

In light of these circumstances, it is appropriate to consider revising course syllabi to accommodate necessary changes in content, assignments, deadlines, etc. Usually I would not recommend that syllabi be amended mid-semester, but the extraordinary circumstances caused by COVID-19 justify such revisions as long as all students enrolled in the course are informed and treated equitably. I trust your ability to maintain the academic standards of our university and also enable the academic success of our students.

In my last message to you on March 23, I indicated that we already were planning to adopt stricter measures to manage COVID-19 in the event that Governor Northam determined that further actions were required. That time has now come. The governor’s stay-at-home order yesterday elevates us to the essential operations level described in President Sands’ recent policy memorandum.  Details of what exactly this means for our teaching, research, and outreach operations will be released over the next couple of days as we prepare to implement this elevated operations level by Friday this week.  Generally, we will continue online delivery of the curriculum, limit the number of students allowed to live on campus to include only those with a compelling justification, and further restrict on-campus activities to those that are designated to be essential.

A number of you have asked how you can support efforts to combat COVID-19. I hope that you appreciate how the work you are doing to deliver the curriculum, advise students, and conduct essential research and outreach already makes a huge difference.  But if you are looking for additional opportunities to support these efforts, please consider donating to the Student Emergency Fund managed by the Dean of Students. This fund is used to address urgent financial needs of students, which have increased substantially as a result of many students not being able to work on campus.

I do not know how long it will be necessary for Virginia Tech to operate at an essential operations level. Considering that some epidemiological models predict that Virginia will experience its peak rate of serious infections in late May, it is possible that we may need to sustain our current COVID-19 mitigation efforts well into the summer.  Therefore, it is important that you pace yourselves and consider adjusting your personal academic goals. The work that you accomplish in support of Virginia Tech’s mission is important, but so is the time and attention you commit to your own well-being and that of those close to you.

Sincerely,
Cyril