July 20, 2020: Update from the Provost: Planning for Fall 2020

Dear Colleagues,

In the present and rapidly changing environment, I recognize the importance of communicating frequently as we plan for fall semester 2020. Since the start of the pandemic and through the summer, multiple groups composed of UM faculty, staff, and administrators have been coordinating efforts to implement our plans within the bounds of guidance and directives issued by Missoula City and County Public Health and the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education. I am grateful for these efforts as well as for the individual efforts of each of you as we face an unprecedented challenge. 

I want you to know that I take seriously your concerns about workplace safety as the start of fall semester rapidly approaches. We recognize on-campus safety is of paramount importance for all members of campus community; while guidelines have been published and updated, these remain an evolving work in progress. The purpose of this message is to bring you up to speed on where we are relative to safety and the delivery of instruction in a complex environment.  

Healthy Fall 2020 plan 

For fall semester we are striving for a careful balance between optimizing the student experience and maximizing classroom and workplace safety – for faculty and staff as well as students. At the core of this work is the acknowledgement of and respect for individual health concerns. The Healthy Fall 2020 plan summarizes the University’s efforts to achieve these goals.  

Paula Short, Associate Vice President for Communications, and I co-chaired the Health Advisory Group (HAG) this summer. The HAG’s work continues to focus on mitigation, testing, tracing and isolation/quarantine. Informed by members who are experts in public health and medicine, both from the campus and community, the HAG’s work is a core component of Healthy Fall 2020.  

The current version of the Healthy Fall 2020 Plan includes a significant amount of information and represents revisions in response to the feedback we solicited from the campus community. We are preparing a shorter version of the key points of this document (such as guidelines on face coverings/masks) to share with you soon. 

Instructional space assignments and set-up 

UM’s Instructional Planning Group, which has helped to shape the Healthy Fall 2020 Plan, has outlined vital information related to supporting teaching and learning this fall 

The Registrar’s Office is currently assigning classrooms based on the course modality requests that were submitted last week. We plan to offer as many face-to-face classes as available instructional space allows, as well as offer hybrid, remote, and online classes. As you plan your teaching for fall, please build in as much flexibility as possible. Classroom assignments will be finalized and shared with academic units this week, as we have committed to inform students about how their courses will be taught by Friday, July 24.  

As a part of this classroom assignment process, Facilities Services has inventoried all instructional spaces and will set up classrooms to ensure appropriate physical distancing. Facilities is also using some classrooms that fit 5 or fewer students for furniture storage, since we cannot leave unused furniture in a room or in hallways. Fixed seating classrooms will be marked with branded signage and taped off to indicate where individuals cannot sit. Research and computer labs are not included in Facility Services’ inventory, so departments are authorized to set up appropriate physical distancing in these spaces. If you feel you need layout advice and/or signage, you may reach out to Kim Nielson in Facilities Services.     

Workplace safety 

Deans and other supervisors have completed risk mitigation checklists as part of the University’s overall risk management efforts. Deans and supervisors have been asked to share their units’ checklists with faculty, staff, graduate students, and student employees, and they have been asked to encourage discussion about these checklists as we all make efforts to ensure a safe workplace for employees as well as a safe learning environment for our students.  

For safety concerns related specifically to instruction, the Instructional Planning Group’s webpage features a set of FAQs that includes responses to inquiries from instructors who have specific concerns about teaching this fall. 

Meanwhile, members of the Instructional Planning Group as well as others who have been working on all plans will enact instructional space scenarios and develop responses to situations that may arise when fall semester begins. We will share what we learn from this critical planning exercise with instructors prior to the start of the fall semester. If there are situations you are concerned about, please share them with us  to ensure we consider them. 

Training and resources in support of instruction 

The Instructional Guidelines also outline the extensive training and resources that will be available in the coming weeks and months.  The Keep on Teaching and Training and Support websites provided by UMOnline,  as well as the Distance Teaching website hosted by the Office of Organizational Learning and Development, highlight many meaningful professional development opportunities to prepare for the fall. 

Moodle shells have been made available for every course; instructors are strongly encouraged to use Moodle to support their instruction – both as a complement to face-to-face teaching, and also as a contingency measure to have in place in the event that a new shelter in place order requires a transition to fully remote instruction this fall. To learn how Moodle can help you add flexibility to your teaching, please enroll in Moodle Basics. 

Commitment to sharing information with the campus community 

These are unprecedented times, with information changing from day to day. I recognize that more frequent updates will help our community feel empowered and reassured. I want to ensure every one of my colleagues feels is supported as we prepare for fall. Please share your questions and concerns with me via email at officeoftheprovost@umontana.edu and expect frequent updates in the coming weeks. 

Sincerely, and on behalf of the extraordinary team of UM colleagues working together, 

Reed Humphrey, Acting Provost


This message was sent by the Office of the Provost to all UM faculty and academic officers.