Acknowledging the stress that flexible academic policies had put on faculty members during the pandemic, a top University of Oregon official told instructors this week that they’d no longer need to provide as many learning accommodations for students.
Janet Woodruff-Borden, executive vice provost for academic affairs at Oregon, announced new guidance for instruction in a letter to the faculty, writing that “it’s time to help our students transition to more customary modes of learning.” The Academic Council, which is part of Oregon’s faculty senate, approved the guidance last week.
While many colleges have announced plans to end their mask mandates and return to fully in-person classes with the decline of the Omicron variant, there haven’t been sweeping changes in the flexible classroom policies that many colleges have embraced over the past two years. Professors have said that those policies can sometimes just lead to more work for them.
The conventional wisdom has been that 18- to 22-year-old undergraduates can’t wait to get back to in-person classes, but faculty members across the country continue to report attendance problems. That’s been the case at Oregon, Woodruff-Borden wrote in the letter, saying that many professors were struggling with high numbers of absentee students and with fulfilling students’ expectations of being able to learn anywhere at any time.
Some students, meanwhile, have said that pandemic-era flexibility has made it easier to fit their academic work into their lives and has been better for their mental health.
Oregon’s new guidance, which is effective immediately, permits professors to set most of their own policies, including their expectations for attendance. Still, it instructs them to move “closer to pre-pandemic expectations, with some flexibility for absences but not unlimited flexibility.” And it tells faculty members that they’re not expected to record lectures or provide access to course materials beyond what they would have provided before the pandemic.
It also allows instructors to count attendance and participation as parts of students’ grades, as long as students can make up assignments, and tells instructors they’re not required to accommodate students who signed up for an in-person course but want to take it entirely remotely.
The change “may be a difficult transition for students who have come to expect a level of flexibility and accommodation that is no longer necessary,” Woodruff-Borden wrote.
“We encourage you to establish your expectations for attendance in your syllabus and early class meetings,” she wrote. “Students need to hear that attendance is important to their learning.”