Healthy Brown

To Brown Faculty: Update: Academic Continuity Planning


Dear Members of the Faculty,

I hope all is well with you and your loved ones. I want to begin by thanking you again for all your good work over these last two months. Because of your dedication and hard work, we have been able to keep our university going throughout these challenging times.

Following up on the May 5 Faculty Meeting and President Paxson’s May 6 letter to the community, I’m writing to describe the academic continuity planning we are engaged in for the 2020-2021 academic year. In this message, I will outline how we are thinking about (1) curricular planning for the next academic year; (2) supporting online instruction; (3) plans for resuming research; and (4) ensuring a safe return to campus activities. Given the uncertainty that continues to shape the public health situation in our state and throughout the world, much of our planning at this stage is necessarily contingent and will likely generate more questions than answers. I appreciate your patience and the insights we’ll ask you to provide to help guide our path forward.

Our planning for the next academic year is guided by several commitments: protecting the health and safety of our community; delivering the world class education and cutting-edge research that Brown is known for; offering as much choice as possible to all members of our community — faculty, staff and students; and approaching this work with empathy and awareness that individuals in our community are facing significant personal challenges. Given the range of uncertainties — from the duration of the pandemic to access to testing, tracing and treatment — we are working to be as flexible as possible for the 2020-21 academic year. President Paxson’s May 6, 2020, letter outlined that we are planning for variations of the following three scenarios:

  • Normal operations/Traditional academic year
  • Reduced campus population/ Modified academic calendar (three semesters of instruction between September 2020 and August 2021)
  • Fully online teaching and learning for fall 2020, and perhaps for the full academic year

Planning for Continuity of Education and Research

Based on guidance from our state and national health agencies, we are preparing for all three of the outlined scenarios. The President has convened several planning groups looking into factors such as workplace safety and residential and campus life, while the Academic Continuity Planning group that I lead is developing plans related to modes of instruction (considering online, remote and hybrid instruction); curriculum planning; and reopening research laboratories, libraries and offices. This letter briefly outlines the planning under way in each of the subcommittees dedicated to these areas.

Academic Continuity: Subcommittee for Online/Remote/Hybrid Instruction

The Academic Continuity Planning group has been working to ensure that we are fully prepared to deliver — in person and/or remotely — the high-quality and personalized educational experience for which Brown is known. The use of digital technology to deliver high-quality instruction to students around the world is fundamental. Therefore, as an initial step we must ensure that all courses at Brown can be offered online, regardless of which scenario for structuring the academic calendar the University pursues.

On Tuesday, May 19, faculty will receive a survey asking them how Brown can support instructors in this transition to online teaching through a variety of resources offered by the Digital Learning and Design (DLD) team, the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, and the University Library. Based on survey responses, we will work with department chairs and cognizant academic deans to finalize courses for online transition in each department.

As all instructors prepare to offer online instruction, they will receive a communication no later than May 30 from the coordinated DLD-Sheridan-Library team offering targeted support. If you have any questions about this planning for online instruction in the fall, please contact Deputy Provost Shankar Prasad ([email protected]), who is the point person for this committee.

Academic Continuity: Subcommittee for Curricular Planning

In addition to preparing for courses to be offered online, within the next week or two we will contact individual departments to work with them on how they deliver their curriculum next year. We appreciate that this will be complicated if we pursue either a three-semester residential model or a partially/fully online model. The President will make a decision regarding the fall semester’s format no later than July 15 but we need to plan now for how best to deliver our curriculum in any of the scenarios currently being considered.  

Academic Continuity: Subcommittee for Research Continuity

Researchers at Brown acted quickly to ramp down their work, and are understandably anxious to return to their labs and advance their research. As with classroom and workplace activities, we must ensure that research can be conducted safely, and we must be responsive to prevailing public health circumstances and guidelines.

Under the leadership of Vice President for Research Jill Pipher, a Subcommittee on Research Continuity is developing a plan for ramping up research and to offer best practices for lab safety based on the University’s planning scenarios. This work has three subgroups addressing: public health and human subjects research; biomedical research; and physical sciences and core facilities. In a separate communication within the next week, Jill and I will follow up with guidance on planning to reopen labs safely. 

At the University Library, planning is underway to support resumed campus research activities through facilitating digital access to general and special collections materials that are not available through other means. The Library also is working toward launching some form of limited "distant circulation" of physical materials.

Planning for Workplace Safety and On-campus Programming

Central to planning for a return to research and a residential academic community requires ensuring the safety of faculty and staff as they return to the campus work environment. As President Paxson’s letter noted, a Personnel Group is working to develop policy and offer guidance for a phased, gradual and controlled resumption of on-campus activities. We will write soon with information about how the University has structured and will manage the safe return to campus.   

Events and Programming

Events, lectures, conferences and other forms of programming are part of our mission as a university, and they help strengthen our sense of community. We will need to think differently about how we approach our traditional on-campus programming in the coming year, due to social distancing requirements, travel restrictions and budgetary constraints. As we have this semester, we will need to be prepared to cancel in-person events and large gatherings, and use other means — such as Zoom and other technology options — to achieve related goals.

We are in a period of great uncertainty, and we are doing all we can to prepare to advance the mission of Brown safely, responsibly and responsively as conditions may change. One thing is certain: Our success will require the full cooperation, creativity, flexibility and preparedness of our entire community. Thank you again for all that you have done this semester and for your future partnership in the months to come.


Richard M. Locke