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Important Information for faculty re: COVID-19

This message was sent to all faculty and staff in Academic Affairs.

Dear Colleagues,

While there are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state of Idaho, global and regional conditions are evolving rapidly. In response, the university has mobilized a number of focused efforts, coordinated by the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, to prepare for a range of possible impacts on campus community members and operations.

The purpose of this email is to bring you into that planning process, relative to instructional and department-level activities. Specifically, I want to address three important issues:

  1. Accommodating student absence
  2. Preparing for alternative instructional delivery
  3. Developing departmental continuity of operations plans

1. Carriers of the COVID-19 virus can present as asymptomatic, so monitoring and controlling exposure is of critical importance to the prevention of transmission. More important yet, an individual who exhibits symptoms of the virus is advised by CDC guidelines to self-isolate for fourteen days, except for the purpose of receiving medical care. Because this is potentially a global-scale pandemic scenario, faculty must implement appropriately adjusted attendance protocols, in order to minimize the risk of infection of others. We simply cannot create any disincentive for potentially infected individuals to isolate themselves. Adherence to standard course-specific attendance requirements can create such a disincentive. Therefore, course-specific attendance requirements must be adjusted to remove the disincentive, while also providing support for an absent student’s progress in the course.

2. On that last point, we must be ready to conduct our face-to-face classes in an online environment, and my office has made specific provisions for the continuity of instruction. As you may have seen, Italy (a Level-3 country) has closed all schools and universities for a period of weeks. Currently, one of every four course sections at Boise State is delivered entirely online, and many on-ground courses make heavy use of Blackboard and other enabling technologies. However, in order to support any students who are self-isolating due to possible exposure, and to prepare for the possibility of a full-scale campus closure where employees must work from home, all instructors must be prepared to move course content and assignments online. To facilitate this readiness state, OIT is creating a Blackboard “shell” for every course section that is currently running, as well as for future courses. Faculty who are unfamiliar with the platform’s functionality are strongly encouraged to explore the supporting resources for Blackboard as we make preparations now for various possible scenarios. In addition to Blackboard, there are a number of other web-based platforms available to assist in such a scenario: Zoom, Panopto, and G Suite (Google Apps). For assistance, contact the Office of Information Technology at boisestate.edu/oit/.

3. In the event that one or more members of a department experiences an extended absence, due to exposure or confirmed infection, it will likely become necessary to adjust the level of work being done in the department. Knowing which services and activities to suspend in which order of priority – and how the remaining responsibilities are distributed among the remaining staff – forms the basis of a continuity of operations plan (COOP). Some units on campus already have a formal COOP worked out, but most academic departments do not. In order to facilitate unit-level readiness, Emergency Management has developed guidelines for drawing up an abbreviated COOP (attached). Departments will be expected to devise a COOP and share it with their Dean and my office by March 13. The Office of Emergency Management can provide assistance in this effort.

The thought of a global-scale pandemic can be overwhelming, particularly when considered in light of the profound complexities involved in executing the mission and day-to-day work of a university like ours. I want to assure you that concentrated efforts are underway to assist affected students, employees, and units, today and on an ongoing basis. I encourage you to remain engaged and informed as we work through this evolving situation together.

You can expect additional communications from the university any my office regarding other aspects of our work and life on campus, as they might be affected by COVID-19.

Thank you,
Dr. Tony Roark
Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs