Provost's Message on Continued COVID-19 planning

March 6, 2020

Dear colleagues,

General information on steps UM is taking to respond to COVID-19 and protect our students, faculty and staff were provided in the President’s March 5 update, and a more focused message around instruction was provided in my communication of March 3.

Although we do not know if UM will need to suspend face-to-face teaching, it is important that every person teaching a course have plans for this possibility, and takes reasonable steps to prepare. I know many of you are already working on this and I sincerely appreciate your efforts. If you are an instructor who is not familiar with Zoom technology, now is the time to learn. There will be both in-person and online trainings offered next week; check the Keep on Teaching website regularly for updates). If you are working with Teaching or Learning Assistants, please also coordinate contingency planning with them.

Faculty are already responding to requests from students who are seeking remote learning accommodations because they have decided not to attend classes for health reasons (e.g., if in addition to being a student, they are also caring for someone with high-risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19). I appreciate these one-on-one accommodations and expect there will be more requests in the coming days. Zoom technology allows simultaneous teaching to students in class, as well as to students at remote locations.

I encourage faculty and department chairs/directors to work with their deans the week of March 9 to talk through the unique nature of their courses and other student experiences, and consider what options and alternatives would work best, including for students who are on track to graduate in May 2020. In addition to courses, contingency planning should include things such as having graduate students defend theses and dissertations using Zoom. The Montana University System (MUS) registrars are also discussing contingency plans around issues that might impact graduation and grading.

Staff are a critical component of UM, and I know that many supervisors are working with their staff on contingency plans for their areas of responsibility, and that our Campus Preparedness and Response Group is working with HRS on standard guidance around common situations that might arise, such as cases where working from home would be an effective option. Our HRS leaders are in constant communication with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) to ensure a coordinated response for all MUS employees on the questions that are arising as this situation evolves.

While this is a challenging time, I have been impressed with how everyone is pulling together to plan solutions and adjustments. Your calm commitment to supporting UM is much appreciated.

In closing, please stay informed:

  • Check the UM website and app for large tiles labeled “Coronavirus Updates.” Both lead to the Curry Health Center’s website, which features the latest updates from the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the State Department and OCHE. The latest news and information will be posted here.
  • In addition, so please watch UM Today and email for frequent updates as information becomes available.

Jon Harbor, Provost