Expectations Regarding Academic Work and the Classroom

Letters to the Community
August 17, 2022

Dear Faculty and Students,

We write to communicate some fundamental expectations regarding academic work and the classroom in the coming year. Since the interrupted spring of 2020, “flexibility” has been a key watchword in all of our work. As we enter the new academic year, we need to ensure that the flexibility we still need is exercised within clear boundaries. The points below reflect our consultation with members of faculty governance committees and with representatives of the Student Government Association. While this letter touches on several important aspects of academic work, it remains imperative for faculty to communicate early, often, and clearly about both what their policies and expectations are and why they choose the policies and expectations that they do.

In-person instruction and attendance
In-person attendance is required, with the usual exceptions available for illness or required isolation. We encourage faculty to include their attendance policy in their course syllabus, to go over this policy in class, and to explain the policy’s rationale to students. We want to underscore the college’s absolute requirement that students not attend class when they are ill or experiencing symptoms, which has been the practice for illnesses even before COVID. Unlike the last two years, there will be no expectation of hybrid courses or remote attendance options this year, though of course individual faculty may offer remote options or recording of class sessions for specific reasons at their discretion.

Students with accommodations from the Office of Disability Services should inform faculty and discuss with their instructors the specific accommodations outlined in letters. Faculty are required to make reasonable accommodations as outlined in these letters and should consult ODS with any questions. Faculty seeking medical or ADA-related leaves or accommodations should contact Amy Smith (asmith13@smith.edu) in the Office of Human Resources.

Student absence due to illness/isolation
Students should inform faculty regarding absences and should take responsibility for making up work. As the Code of Faculty Governance requires (VIII.D.2), faculty must explain a clear process for keeping up with course material and making up work (whether via asynchronous assignments, office hours, notes from fellow student(s), etc.). We encourage faculty to exercise flexibility, within reason, regarding deadlines for make-up work.

Faculty absence due to illness/isolation
As has always been the case, it is possible that an instructor will have to miss class due to illness. We recommend advance scheduling of possible make-up dates and the advance preparation of contingency plans for this possibility. Faculty should state their plans clearly in their course syllabus and go over these plans in class. Short-term remote instruction will be possible for faculty who feel well enough and are able to teach from home. In addition to plans for and by individual faculty members, we encourage collaborative contingency planning (among individual colleagues and/or at department level) to ensure the coverage of curriculum.

Deadlines and Extensions
We continue to encourage flexibility when students face difficulties completing required work, though we reiterate that this flexibility must be exercised within clearly stated boundaries (e.g. all required work due by end of semester). We encourage faculty to explain their policy regarding deadlines and the rationale for them (e.g. the need for demonstration of competence in one process or stage before advancing to the next, or the need to keep up as class progresses). Extensions should always be considered exceptional and should never be understood as automatic or guaranteed. As the college’s policy on extensions states, faculty are responsible for granting extensions up to the last day of the exam period. After that point, only class deans may grant extensions for final work (not for work due earlier in the semester); requests for such extension should be initiated by students, and faculty will be notified in writing. Please note that an Office of Disability Services accommodation does not automatically ensure that an end-of-semester extension request will be approved. These extensions are granted only in cases of unforeseen or extenuating circumstances. As always, we encourage students to consult with their adviser(s) and class deans as needed, and to do so early, before matters reach a crisis point.

A vital continuity across these points is the need for clear and continual communication, and we want to emphasize that this communication should be in both directions: from faculty to students and from students to faculty. As situations change, whether for individuals or for the college or community more broadly, it will be important that everyone be kept informed of current plans and practices. We encourage faculty to remind their classes of the college’s current COVID mitigation strategies and requirements (e.g. masking in instructional spaces during class until September 16) and to note for their students any changes to announced mitigation measures.

We thank you for understanding that these expectations are a necessary part of ensuring a successful semester for both students and faculty.

Michael and Alex

Michael Thurston
Provost and Dean of the Faculty
Helen Means Professor of English Language and Literature

Alex Keller
Interim Dean of the College
Professor of Film and Media Studies