While the Spring 2021 semester has officially come to an end, the University will continue to work on its plans throughout the summer in preparation for welcoming students back in the fall, said Prabhas V. Moghe, executive vice president for academic affairs.
He said the summer is always a busy time for academic planning, designing and programming, but this year is especially busy as the University focuses on creating more opportunities for face-to-face experiences in larger numbers, enhancing its use of technology and continuing to support students.
“We're also working with our advising teams and other student support professionals,” Moghe said. “What we're looking for here is to develop strategies that would help us to return to providing services in person, alongside the classroom experience (and) perhaps also to figure ways out to provide the services online.”
One component of summer planning will deal with the continued development of course offerings and availability, he said.
While specific details regarding academic programs are typically decided at the local level, Moghe said he expects these programs to continue to make adjustments to their course offerings over the next few months. He said individuals from these programs will be analyzing enrollments and academic interests from students in order to make adjustments accordingly.
Even though course offerings and modes of instruction vary depending on multiple factors and are subject to tweaking over the summer, Moghe said he does not anticipate that there will be significant changes given the amount of prior academic planning.
“If students have questions around what kinds of course offerings might change or expand for fall 2021, my suggestion would be that they should contact their academic program advisors and learn about this,” he said. “Do not hesitate to ask if you have any specific questions.”
Moghe said he does not expect changes to occur in the course schedule once the semester has approached unless under exceptional circumstances such as a need to shift once again to remote learning — which he said is unlikely.
Another aspect of summer planning revolves around what classroom operating density will look like in the fall, which he said the University still does not have full clarity on. Currently, Moghe said guidelines require 6 feet of social distance in the classroom, though, the University has planned courses in the fall assuming this requirement will be reduced to 2 or 3 feet.
Going forward, the University is faced with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and its effects on academic operations, he said. One specific challenge of this will continue to surround the University’s part-time lecturers (PTLs).
For instance, Moghe said the number of PTLs that will be hired for the fall is contingent on factors such as the number of courses offered, number of students and what modes of instruction will be utilized. He said that as the course schedule becomes more finalized, the University will have a better understanding of how many faculty assignments will be needed, specifically when it comes to PTLs.
“We have to wait until the students have fully indicated to us what kinds of sections they're signing up for and we have clarity around what that operating center looks like for the fall,” Moghe said. “Once they are there, then we are able to go ahead and make all assignments, and the appointments for the PTLs as well.”
In addition to the recent agreement reached by Rutgers unions and the University, which includes the reversal of prior restrictions on PTL reappointment, he said the University has been working to improve its efforts by leaving appointments up to local levels and creating opportunities for them to potentially be converted to non-tenure track roles.
The Rutgers Part-Time Lecturers Faculty Chapter (PTLFC) recently held a virtual Town Hall last Thursday where they presented Moghe with a petition signed by over 1,000 individuals in support for a "safe and fair return" to Rutgers, according to a press release.
The petition called for additional action from the University including rehiring PTLs not reappointed during the pandemic, bringing class sizes and course offerings back to pre-pandemic levels, providing timely reappointment letters and giving PTLs a voice in the decisions being made about the return to campus, according to the release.
Moghe expressed support for the concerns brought forth by the union members and discussed his desire to create a plan that would address some of these issues, according to the release.
“We were pleased to hear Dr. Moghe refer to the extraordinary contribution PTLs make to enriching the educational experience students enjoy here at Rutgers,” said Amy Higer, president of the PTLFC. “It’s now time that the administration demonstrates a greater commitment to Rutgers’ PTLs in the form of increased job security, health benefits and equal pay for equal work. It’s intolerable that PTLs teach nearly 30 percent of all courses at Rutgers but have salaries that comprise less than 1 percent of the University's annual budget."
Moghe told The Daily Targum the University will continue working with PTLs at Rutgers to address job security and opportunities for advancement.
While what happens inside the classroom is an important aspect of academic planning, he said that what happens outside of the classroom, such as transportation and population density in other spaces, is a critical component to the planning process as well and will continue to be taken into account as plans are further developed.
The University will continue to closely follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as interpreted by the state as well as guidelines set forth by Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D-N.J.) in the fall semester, he said.
“It's going to be … an exciting journey ahead,” Moghe said. “One for which we are prepared, we're absolutely ready to roll up our sleeves and we are just looking forward to seeing the students and the communities build up on the campus.”