Message from the Provost
September 14, 2020
Dear Baruch Colleagues,
I’m sure that, like me, you’ve found this semester’s return to teaching more complicated than any we’ve had. This was undoubtedly the case for most faculty, staff, and students. The academic world has changed profoundly since last fall!
But I know that Baruch faculty were far better prepared this semester than last. Like many of you, I had the advantage of taking one of the many courses available on online teaching this Summer. Hundreds of us took advantage of opportunities offered by our Center for Teaching and Learning and the Schwartz Institute, by Departments and Schools at Baruch, and by CUNY. I thank all of you who devoted time and energy this Summer to preparing for this fall’s teaching, and I know that our students will benefit greatly from your work. And don’t forget the extensive resources available through Baruch’s outstanding CTL, especially their thorough guide for teaching online (https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ctl/online-course-prep-guide/).
As you know, an issue that we and CUNY’s administration have been wrestling with since last spring, and one in which students have taken great interest, is that of the use of remote proctoring for online exams. Significant concerns have been raised by students about privacy issues that have included: forcing students to use cameras from locations they wish to remain private; the use of artificial intelligence algorithms; any lingering implications for privacy of the installation of A.I. software on students’ computers; and the use of images of students after any exam. Other concerns include technical issues: balky internet connections and computers that lack cameras or the ability to create virtual backgrounds. As you know, for these and other legal and contractual reasons, CUNY ruled in April that online proctoring of exams would not, at least for the time being, be allowed in any CUNY courses.
At the end of the spring semester, CUNY formed a task force to explore these issues and to decide if there were one or more remote proctoring packages that could address the concerns that had been raised. On August 14, the central office announced that the university hoped to conclude negotiations soon with one or more of the vendors, probably in time for midterms.
On September 1, the central office updated that announcement to include the following:
Note: It is important to recognize that students may not be compelled to agree to the terms and conditions of proctoring solutions procured by the University, Colleges, Programs, and/or those which may be bundled in with specific textbooks. When in doubt, please refer to the following guidance from our Office of General Counsel regarding this matter:
The Office of Legal Affairs (OGC) has reviewed the Terms and Conditions of several online testing application services and it is OGC’s position that faculty cannot compel students to accept the corresponding tools “Terms and Conditions” and that in the event students do not accept the terms, faculty must provide students reasonable assessment accommodations to demonstrate they meet the course learning requirements.
In other words, the central office concluded that we may not compel students to participate in online proctoring.
Given the scale of the courses most likely to be in need of online proctoring—large classes offered in multiple sections with common final exams—providing an alternative will be a challenge. To address this challenge, Associate Provost Slavin and I are in the process of assembling a group of Baruch faculty and students to explore the best approach to providing alternatives to online proctoring for students who are unwilling to participate in that approach.
Other concerns around remote teaching
In light of the clear prohibition against requiring students to submit to online proctoring, this issue should be moot, but I would like to confirm that faculty may not charge students for proctoring services, even if they are associated with the course’s textbook. Any charges to students for the use of such programs would be considered by CUNY to be a fee; all fees are subject to CUNY’s approval, and therefore cannot be assessed by individual faculty.
Students have asked about being required to turn their web cameras on during classes. Teaching to a wall of empty boxes or photographs can feel very alienating, but you can still call on those students and after a while some engaged faces may emerge. But the privacy and technology issues cited above are the same. As has been stated before: members of the faculty may not compel their students to turn on webcams.
We have asked faculty teaching synchronous courses either to record their classes and make them available to students who were not able to attend at the prescribed time (some may be international students who have not been able to re-enter the country) or to devise other ways for students to learn what they missed, perhaps by posting PowerPoints, narrated PowerPoints, lecture notes, etc. Please make such materials available to your students.
One other issue: Some students report that instructors are letting their classes run considerably longer that the scheduled limits and that they have difficulty getting to their jobs or next classes on time. Please respect your students and their schedules by keeping synchronous classes within their scheduled time slots.
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Our students are rightly concerned about how they will manage this new world: they’ve suggested that fees that support services that they are not now receiving be reduced; about needing equipment; about access to library services; and about access to secure spaces where they can do their work with solid internet access. We are working on addressing all these issues.
If you or your students have any other questions or concerns about our first entire semester online, I urge you to reach out – to department chairs, Deans’ Offices, Associate Provosts and staff, and to me to ask any questions. In the coming days, I’ll write a separate letter along these same lines to students, asking them to seek advice from wherever they think it might reside.
Let me close with some examples of the outstanding thought and work of some of our colleagues who have written recently and compellingly on issues related to online learning and teaching.
- I had the great pleasure of reading a piece in the Hechinger Report recently, on the opportunities provided by online instruction (https://hechingerreport.org/opinion-can-zoom-classes-keep-students-excited-and-engaged-we-have-found-some-ways/), written by our Baruch colleagues Andrea Gabor and Vera Haller. I would urge you to read this piece. Andrea and Vera talk about both their plans for this semester and their experience last semester, when – on minimal notice – they had to fundamentally change a course that they had planned would have included a class trip to the US Mexican border. I’d also urge to you read the amazing stories students prepared for that course – working entirely online (https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/border2020/).
- I’m sure many of you have equally impressive and compelling stories about the work that you and your students have been able to do online. I’d also urge you to share examples of that work with me. I’d be honored to publicize your work to serve as inspiration to others.
- But of course – along with the opportunities our new experience provides – we face challenges as well. Our CUNY Graduate Center colleague, Cathy Davidson, has been writing all Summer about the changes we’re experiencing, and she’s expressed some of these challenges very well in a recent blog post (https://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2020/05/11/single-most-essential-requirement-designing-fall-online-course). Cathy’s main messages are to start the semester by recognizing the trauma that our students – and we – have faced and to meet that trauma with compassion. I’d urge you to read Cathy’s blog, and perhaps other pieces she’s written this Summer as we all teach this semester.
Let me return to the themes I raised at the start – to recognize the very serious challenges we’ve all faced and continue to face; and to express my profound thanks for all the contributions you have made and are making to insure that Baruch students continue to receive the support they deserve, and that – as they have done so well in recent years – they continue to succeed.
Thank you all,
Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs