In an interview with The Brown and White, Kathy Iovine, a professor of biological sciences and the chair of the Faculty Senate, shared her thoughts on the fall 2020 semester.
Q: From a Faculty Senate perspective, how do you feel this semester went?
Kathy Iovine: I think it was exhausting. Exhausting is kind of the best word. I know faculty put a lot of effort into their classes. I know students experienced different class formats and sometimes increased workloads. Everyone was also just trying to keep up with the other things we have to do, like classes, research and service. Since conditions were potentially changing day to day with COVID, that added to the stress of everything. And of course Zoom fatigue … I think everyone knows what that is unfortunately.
Q: What are some successes of this semester that you hope to see again next semester?
KI: It seemed like classrooms were not a major driver of transmission. I hope we can maintain that next semester, especially since we are trying to have more classes in-person in the spring. I think governance was a success as well. The Faculty Senate heard of some concerns from students through petitions circling around and we tried to be responsive to those. The Faculty Senate included Student Senators in the Nov. 6 meeting, and we talked about some of those issues. I think faculty were wanting to be responsive to student concerns.
Q: What are the areas for improvement for next semester?
KI: The biggest one is addressing everyone’s mental health concerns. That is something that came up everywhere around us. Because of how different everything is around us and because of the exhaustion, the anxiety and the uncertainty, I hope we can do more. I am in conversation with other leaders about putting something in place to give people a respite or way to take some downtime to relax. Mental health is definitely one area for improvement.
I am not as familiar with this, but I know there were some challenges with having so many students in isolation and quarantine around the end of October when we had that surge around four percent (positivity). We need to make sure that students have access to food, are kept safe, and have some outlets/things to do when they are trapped in their rooms. Those are two areas for improvement that we could do better on.
Q: How did the Faculty Senate come to the conclusion that the CR/DCR/NCR system would be in place again this semester?
KI: We saw the petition and received a document prepared by the Student Senate outlining the concerns that students had about the semester. There was a little bit of pushback, but not a ton at meetings. I heard there was a little pushback regarding concerns that students should not continue to receive grades — that is a concern that some faculty do have. I think the (Faculty) Senate ultimately felt like there was continuous stress and pressure on students as a result of the pandemic.
All students not being on campus and not having reliable access to Wi-Fi, increased workload of some courses and unevenness in instruction are all factors. Ultimately, the (Faculty) Senate felt it was OK to give students the option to choose. As the message came out from the Provost, it was clear that students should really be thinking carefully whether it is in their best interest to implement it.
Q: What does the Faculty Senate think of the hiring freeze?
KI: I think faculty understand the restrictions on budget. We are not very happy about it, but no one is really happy about it. I think the main concern with the hiring freeze is that it can limit our ability to meet our academic needs. Departments have faculty that are retiring all of the time or are leaving for other reasons. The inability to hire puts other stresses on the department in terms of teaching and bringing in other good faculty members.
There are potentially a lot of really good candidates on the market and it would be nice to capture some of those that would be really strong additions here. I know deans are requesting exceptions to the hiring freeze from the Provost. There are departments that are in high need or have specific areas of expertise that would benefit from hiring.
Q: Can Lehigh continue to grow its student body as planned in the Path to Prominence given the current financial/budgetary concerns and hiring freeze to grow faculty at an appropriate rate?
KI: Our Admissions Office is working very hard to bring in students. I know our number of applications are on par with last year. I do not know the complete answer, but there are a lot of people working very hard to ensure that we can.
Q: How do you feel the presidential search process to replace President John Simon is going?
KI: I am on the presidential search committee and we had a number of town halls recently. I attended three of them: faculty town hall, staff town hall and graduate student town hall. They were well attended and there was a lot of feedback. The search firm we are working with seems very well suited to be able to help us. I am really pleased with the leadership of the search firm that is guiding this process. I think they are working to put together a profile that fits what all major constituents on campus think that we need in a president. I personally feel good about the process so far and I am in the room, so I am happy about that.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to touch on?
KI: This semester had its challenges, but I feel like faculty, senior leadership and students all did a really good job at getting us here. We have a bump in cases right now that is concerning, but I think that everyone really pulled together to power through this semester. I am hoping with the implementation of the vaccine potentially sometime in the spring that next semester is the last semester that we are still in “COVID mode.” I am hopeful that we can take some of the lessons learned from this semester and turn them into opportunities for new ways that Lehigh can grow in the future.