VT GSA Executive Board Statement Regarding COVID-19 and the Fall Semester
This is a list of concerns and requests from the graduate and professional student representative bodies for the plans for Fall 2020, in light of the COVID19 pandemic. For the sake of clarity, points have been clustered according to the many different roles graduate and professional students hold within the University.
All of these scenarios involve in-person research for graduate students and observing social distancing practices for Fall 2020:
- Fall 2020-courses completely online; resume regular schedule Spring 2021.
- Fall 2020-limited undergraduates on campus (Jr/Srs only), graduate students are normal, only undergrads with research experience are allowed to research, majority of classes online, normal start date (Aug 24), finish by thanksgiving; regular schedule Spring 2021.
- Fall 2020-hybrid-meet 1x week in person for class (regardless of the class), rest of classes online, all students are on campus, normal start (Aug 24), end by thanksgiving, finals after thanksgiving; resume regular schedule Spring 2021.
- Fall 2020-normal start date (Aug 24), classes are normal, finish classes by thanksgiving; resume regular schedule by Spring 2021.
- Fall 2020-early start (Aug 16), finish in person classes thanksgiving, majority of classes online, no breaks in the middle; resume regular schedule Spring 2021 (GSA does not recommend this)
Clear guidelines and contingency options need to be in place before the beginning of the fall semester if the university needs to shut down for any reason especially where there is a possibility of an increased risk of infection.
Departments, programs, and colleges need to adhere to guidelines set by the Graduate School for degree progress, work hours, and conditions (research, teaching, etc) for graduate students. Violations of these guidelines will be discussed by the Graduate School and the Faculty Senate’s Faculty Ethics Committee and/or the Commission on Graduate and Professional Studies and Policy. GSA will initiate & facilitate these discussions and cases, as necessary.
All departments/research institutes need to clearly define what is considered essential work respective to our labs, projects, and teaching expectations. A standard document needs to be developed by the Graduate School that defines what physical distanced research looks like. Guidelines of expectations versus what is allowed (i.e. work from home vs on campus requirements) of GTAs, GRAs, and GAs in their various roles must be consistent across colleges and must adhere to principles set by the Graduate School
GSA recommends modifying the document developed by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute (Roanoke) to include an agreement between the student + PI + program director about weekly/monthly tasks along with estimated hours worked.
Free provision of testing (viral and antibody), and safety gear (thermometers, masks, hand sanitizer, etc) for diagnosis, treatment, and hindrance of spread to ALL members of the VT community. Additionally, temperature check stations should be present at every building entrance.
GRAs, GTAs, and GAs need to be compensated for the increased cost of technology (microphones, webcams, hard drives, etc) for remote teaching, research, etc.
Increased and sufficient transportation options that optimizes social distancing while minimizing wait times to get to class, work, etc.
GSA recommends prioritizing on-campus parking for Graduate/Commuter students and recommends on-campus students park at remote parking lots as well as transitioning Perry St Lot, Perry St. Garage, Wallace lot, and Squires lot to F/S/G only.
The option to attend class or teach class virtually due to exposure concerns without a doctor's note or other authority’s note with no grade penalty or instructor bias against such acts of self-preservation.
Improved building workflow and infrastructure. Certain hallways need to be “passing through only” zones to eliminate crowding/blockages; additionally restroom sink handles and door knobs need to be sanitized every hour and need to be swapped to automatic or single lever access replacing current twist knob sinks.
GSA recommends that restrooms that do not meet this standard be temporarily closed or have a warning sign.
Clear explanation of reallocation of comprehensive fees for alternative services provided to students, assuming no reimbursement will be provided in case of campus closing early.
Town Hall addressing the needs of, expectations of, and requirements for the Graduate and Professional populations (exclusive of the UG population) to ease concerns. Town Hall #1 should be during Summer 2020 shortly after the public announcement for opening is made. Town Hall #2 should be during the Fall Semester in front of the GSA General Body. We expect President Sands, Provost Clarke, VP Shushok, VP Pinkney, and VP DePauw to attend both town halls.
Roanoke Campus and Washington DC students’ COVID-19-related primary care physician visits, testing, monitoring, and maintenance fully covered with no co-pay if the provider is in network.
Continued free or subsidized child-care, especially in the event of fully-online courses in which the home becomes the workplace; a partner/spouse may also be compensated for childcare provided during work hours.
Free/reduced parking options for extended campuses (Washington D.C)
Enforcement of all university-mandated policies, practices, and procedures surrounding COVID-19 safety precautions, preparedness, social distancing, and sanitizing. Clear and consistently applied penalties for violators.
Group mentoring of undergraduates must be suspended until serious risk of transmission has passed. Undergraduates with research experience in the same lab can come in to work on defined projects.
All physical materials in the library must be available and accessible safely.
In the event that conferences are cancelled, a good faith effort should be made to reimburse researchers for nonrefundable expenses related to registration, travel, etc.
Technical financial support and/or university-provided equipment and internet access to ensure compatibility with university standards and expectations for internet speed and access, and hardware/software requirements.
All in-person classrooms must provide adequate space for social distancing and adequate air ventilation to discourage viral transmission.
GTAs should NOT be expected to act as janitorial staff, responsible for sanitizing classroom spaces. Classrooms should be cleaned before each new occupancy. Additionally, sanitizing supplies should be available in every classroom.
Provision of technology (i.e. headsets, hotspots, security) and/or safety gear (i.e. masks, hand sanitizer) to all instructors, depending on instruction environment
TAs need to be included on all faculty (tenured, contracted, contingent, and adjunct) communications related to planning, standards, and expectations.
If a return to fully online instruction is expected, a corresponding increase in pay or reduction in expectations to limit hours to the 20 in the standard contract.
Virtual office hours to reduce exposure risk without requiring a doctor or other authority’s note.
Option to run recitations fully online without requiring a doctor or other authority’s note; if the risk of infection is still present on campus, the provision of hazard pay if online instruction is not offered as an option. Individuals who fear for their safety (because of individual vulnerability or ongoing high-risk public health alerts) are given reasonable accommodations by their department to teach their in-person classes in a way that empowers and protects themselves. This can include things such as requesting students not approach them in person for any reason, requiring all students to wipe desks and sanitize their hands upon entering the classroom, and providing a faculty-only restroom facility minimizing their exposure to groups of students.
Clear reporting and disciplinary procedures for students whose behavior poses a risk to public health (i.e. those who refuse to comply with mask and social distancing guidelines).
Explicit public confirmation (written and verbal) that any lecture recordings remain the intellectual property of their creator and the university does not retain the right to unauthorized use or profit from such recordings.
ll employing offices need to establish rules and conditions regarding presence in office environments, including (but not limited to) physical distancing, sanitizing, interactions with others (in an advising capacity, when working with others, or completing other assigned tasks)
Have appropriate socially distanced working spaces for offices.
Treat Graduate Assistants as Staff for relevant policies to working hours and conditions i.e. providing protective equipment and options for remote work.
Allow undergraduate advising programs to shift to fully online.
Included on all COVID-19 staff planning and communications.
Dissertation and assignment requirements need to be relaxed/modified, including extensions, alternative format submissions, etc. Accommodations should be extended in a standardized manner for all students across the university per Graduate School Guidelines, instead of granted on a case by case basis.
Common seating areas outside of classrooms should be closed to students until further notice to discourage gatherings. Spaces such as the student union and the gym will be limited to a certain reduced capacity to ensure space for social distancing. Dining halls will prevent lines as much as possible, using alternatives (with no additional cost) such as online ordering and hiring wait staff to bring meals out to students sitting at tables with appropriate distance.
Detailed plans for the protection of graduate and professional students in experiential programs including (but not limited to) teacher clinicals and student teaching, clinical rotations, consultation, advising, wildlife conservation, and research support published and distributed by the university