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2021 Faculty Spring Semester Update

February 19, 2021

Dear Faculty and Academic Staff:

We have all learned a great deal over this past year. We have become stronger in unexpected ways, and more united as a community despite the distances mandated by the pandemic. We have set new expectations for ourselves to behave in more equitable, empathetic, and inclusive ways. And we have developed frameworks for enabling our work that have allowed us to extend the wisdom we have gained to offer generosity and rise beyond many of the challenges imposed on us by this pandemic.

Moreover, we continue to adjust and progressively plan. Activity on campus is increasing, with more in-person courses this semester and twice as many students living in our residence halls. We have acclimated to safety precautions and look forward to more in-person engagement, as it becomes possible, as the year progresses.

Thank you for learning, adapting, and the good work that has been accomplished.

I’m proud of MSU’s online graduate programs which are ranked among the highest in the nation, as announced recently by U.S. News and World Report. In January, MSU announced a new partnership with Apple to open the first Developer Academy in the United States. Michigan students interested in coding, design, and entrepreneurship can apply to this MSU-Apple one-of-a-kind program. Our goal is to seed and grow academic pathways toward undergraduate or graduate degrees in the digital and tech-driven economies. Finally, we set a new record this month for the most undergraduate applications to MSU. We are considering each prospective student and look forward to welcoming a strong and diverse class of matriculants this fall.

As we continue into spring semester, I want to share a few updates, reminders, and resources that support your continued success. I have heard that many educators appreciate hearing about information that is shared with our student community. Please read the spring semester email to students to learn what updates, reminders, and resource information have been sent to them. In particular, you may want to check out the kudos students gave faculty and advisors in their responses!

Spring 2021 Graduation Ceremonies

One of the most cherished of academic traditions is graduation. University leaders are considering several different scenarios for the spring 2021 graduation ceremonies for our spring 2021 graduates. Student have told us that these ceremonies are an important part of their college experience. If progress in slowing the virus continues, we are hopeful we will be able to have some in-person ceremonies.

With that said, we are working to allow as many students as possible to participate, but we must put health and safety first. To ensure safety, such events must be held outdoors with smaller audiences than we have been able to allow in the past. If the status of the virus does not allow us to have in-person ceremonies, we won't be able to. But we must plan them now, so that if it is possible, we will be prepared to stage them.

If in-person graduations are possible, attendance will be voluntary. If the status of the virus does not allow us to have the ceremonies, we will pivot to virtual options.

At this time, we can confirm the dates for the college-based ceremonies. Specific details, including ceremony formats, will be shared on the Commencement website. We appreciate your patience as we all continue to navigate toward this culminating activity.

  • April 30-May 2, 2021: Baccalaureate Degree Ceremonies for all colleges except Veterinary Medicine. College-specific dates and times will be posted on the Commencement website. The undergraduate Veterinary Medicine ceremony will take place with their college’s advanced degree ceremony on May 7.
  • May 7-8 and May 14, 2021: Master's Degree, Educational Specialists, Ph.D. Degree, and Medical Degrees on May 7-8. Law Degree Ceremonies will take place on May 14. Specific dates and times will be posted on the Commencement website.

Strain on Faculty and Academic Staff:

While I extol the great work you are doing and we will celebrate in graduation, I know there is great strain that accompanies your work. For many of our faculty and academic staff members, caregiving is something difficult to juggle in normal times and during this pandemic has moved to a breaking point. And, I know that there are differences in the way our diverse faculty are experiencing the changing nature of labor at home, in the classroom, and in your scholarly work. Thus, it is incumbent on this institution to think in ways that understand the conditions of the academy at the present moment and have equity as a guiding principle.

I have discussed this issue with Deans Council and we have collectively shared the creative strategies they have developed to alter assignments to provide release from specific duties to allow caregivers to focus on areas within their assignments they have been unable to focus on due to their caregiving responsibilities. These discussions are continuing to occur. I thank every dean of our colleges for their work to alleviate the toll this pandemic is creating for our faculty and academic staff. In the Provost’s Office we have made a number of adjustments to our tenure and promotion processes in partnership with over 25 groups across campus to create and review a COVID-modification document. We also uncoupled teaching feedback from evaluative processes. In addition to the links to these documents, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Marilyn Amey, Interim Associate Provost for Faculty and Academic Staff Development, with any questions you might have.

The duality of professional goals and personal needs is part of the habit of the professoriate. The MSU we are creating is one that understands and values ambition and challenge, accomplishment and resilience, grace and empathy. This MSU believes in individual faculty and the individual journey that includes advancement, family, and yes, excellence.

The Office of the Provost continues to provide new ways to support and assist our faculty and staff, with many resources available on the MSU Guide to Remote Access website, to support remote teaching, learning, and working. Mental health resources have been added, so please check those Keep Teaching and Keep Working sites – and also the WorkLife website – to learn more, including information on WorkLife support for caregivers. The Employee Assistance Program is also available to help faculty and staff.

Student Experience Survey Results

Last month our undergraduate students participated in a survey that identified heroes and areas of development for us to consider as we think about student success efforts. The survey brought to light three findings that would make online learning better for our students:

  • Record and upload all lectures.
  • Post all lecture materials.
  • Develop an excused absence policy that acknowledges internet difficulties or health issues students might face.

Many of our great faculty are already taking these steps. If you have not already done so, please consider implementing these recommendations in your courses, to better support your students. These recommendations have the support of the ASMSU General Assembly.

Mid-Semester Feedback

Implementing the three instructor actions noted above will help address one substantial finding from our student experience survey: technology access is still an issue for our students. According to our findings, 83% of students who completed the survey had slow or not working internet sometimes or frequently; 36% had limited or no access to internet sometimes or frequently; 12% had limited or no access to a computer sometimes or frequently. I share this with you as you consider taking part in MSU’s new optional opportunity to collect mid-semester feedback from your students.

The purpose of mid-semester feedback is to collect formative feedback on your course in order to explore possible adjustments. Our feedback instrument focuses on addressing three general questions – what students would like to see more of, less of, and done differently. To participate, please fill out this request form. This information will be used to generate a Qualtrics survey for your specific course that you can share directly with your students. Mid-semester feedback is intended to be developmental and will not be used by academic units to evaluate instructors.


As you begin to receive feedback, it is important to know how to respond to a distressed student. Please be aware of our new Kognito program, a virtual training platform designed to provide student-facing employees with a socio-emotional toolkit for recognizing and addressing students experiencing distress. This program consists of role-playing scenarios where users work their way through simulated conversations with students. Kognito is not a replacement for MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) or Employee Assistance Program (EAP), but a supplement for consideration as needed.

Educator Professional Development

Based on feedback we received last semester, several new professional development opportunities will be offered. New SOIREE workshops have been scheduled to help faculty improve their online courses and assessment and feedback workshops have been prepared to better support you. An online engagement and community building workshop has been developed to show you how to better engage with your students and create community in the online environment.

Throughout the semester, we will continue to assess feedback and will post additional workshops to our Educator Development Opportunities playlist. In order to best serve you, please take a moment to fill out our Adams Academy learning community survey. This survey is connected to a faculty-led research project and will provide necessary input as we look to what you need to support your teaching next academic year.

Webcam Policy Reminder

As a reminder, the switch to remote learning has made it harder for many to stay connected, leading to social isolation and increased stress in some instances. The use of cameras can contribute to alleviating some of these stresses, however, for reasons of equity and respect for privacy, students cannot be required to turn on their webcams during online classes absent a compelling learning or assessment justification. Please consider whether asking students to turn on their webcams is necessary to accomplish a learning or assessment objective and if it is, explain to students why you would like them to leave on their video feed. Ultimately, it should be left up to the student to make a final decision based on their circumstances without penalties of any kind, with the exception of assessment activities that require the use of a webcam.

You can visit our Video Conference Policies for Webcam Use page on our Keep Teaching site for more detailed information. Please continue to be empathetic and supportive of unique student needs as you consider the use of webcams in your courses this semester.

Resources for In-Person Teaching

For those of you teaching on campus this semester, please remember that new content and resources have been developed for you. You can find information on attendance, face coverings, and sample syllabus language on our Syllabus Support page, and you can find classroom guidelines and compliance FAQs on our Safety Guidelines for Classrooms page on our Keep Teaching website.

Ongoing Support and Thanks:

The Provost's Office has assembled a wide range of resources and best practices for educators and students, housed on the Keep Teaching and Keep Learning sites. Please reference the content on these sites frequently to learn more, as both sites are updated frequently. I also want to bring attention to the #iteachmsu Thank an Educator initiative, which recognizes those who are going above and beyond to support student success through their contributions to our teaching and learning missions. My thanks to all of the educators who have been recognized, for all of the ways in which they have stepped up in this remote learning environment. Each supportive interaction makes a positive difference for our students.

Continue to learn, teach, solve, and strive, MSU!

My best,

Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
MSU Foundation Professor