Our approach to evaluating instructional modality change requests from faculty in fall 2021

The College is continuing with plans to provide students primarily in-person educational and co-curricular experiences in fall 2021, consistent with goals of SUNY leadership for SUNY campuses. We will monitor COVID-19 conditions, continue multiple layers of safeguards, and add safety practices such as surveillance testing and, as conditions and guidance warrant, we will make changes, as we have done in the past.

Though the conditions have changed since the publication of our course schedule, students have already based a series of financial and educational decisions on the course modalities as published. It would be difficult to predict the negative ripple effects on students and their educational experiences for each change of modality requested.

Criteria for supporting a change in modality from in-person or hybrid to all remote have been narrowly tailored, even as we understand this does not quell the full range of faculty members’ fears and uncertainties. Accordingly, the policy that faculty may not make unilateral decisions about course modality changes remains in effect.

For issues related to their own medical conditions, including immunocompromised status, faculty members requesting a change in teaching modality should pursue the process for ADA-based accommodations, if they have not already done so.

Further, faculty who have an immunocompromised dependent who lives in their household may also request a change in teaching modality by presenting the request to the chair and dean. Faculty can support these requests by providing medical documentation confirming the immunocompromised status of a dependent in the household to the Benefits office (benefits@newpaltz.edu, subject: Dependent Supporting Information). This information will be held confidentially except, as warranted, to inform the chair and dean of the legitimacy of the request.

As in other times and semesters, faculty may have temporary needs to be away from their classes. If so, and as stated in the Faculty Handbook, “a faculty member who is absent from class for any reason must notify the department chair in advance of the absence. This will make it possible for the chair to fulfill his or her responsibility to ensure that there is proper coverage for the class. However, the faculty member is normally expected to arrange for make-up sessions or alternative content delivery for classes missed because of absence due to circumstances other than illness.”

As the policy states, faculty members may work with chairs to turn to alternative content and learning experience delivery for classes missed because of absence due to circumstances other than illness.

As an example of how this may work: Pandemic conditions may require an instructor to be absent to accommodate short-term mandated quarantine and isolation procedures for themselves or their children. In such a circumstance, that instructor may coordinate with their department chairs and rely on online instruction as the alternate delivery method during the temporary period. Of course, traditional methods of asking a colleague to fill in during such circumstances always are appropriate as well.

Faculty must continue to direct all non-ADA-related modality change requests to their chair and their dean, and to receive their approval before proceeding. Where approval is not granted, faculty must teach in the modality under which the course was listed in the fall schedule and under which students registered for the course.

As we have indicated, we stand prepared to change practices as COVID-19 conditions and official guidance call for. Faculty should be prepared to pivot to remote or hybrid course delivery should conditions demand, and should seek to develop expertise in online course delivery, if they have not already done so. Many resources to support faculty in their preparation have been available. We will share these and newer resources in future communications.