On November, 30, 2020, The Academic Senate unanimously endorsed the below ASUU Resolution and encouraged all University course instructors to consider taking (to the extent consistent with accreditation and pedagogical objectives) one or more of the actions suggested by ASUU in the below Resolution addressing student mental health issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Associated Students of the University of Utah
October 16, 2020
WHEREAS, The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening daily, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have topped 11 million with the highest death toll in six months reported on November 18, 2020. Daily hospitalization count in Utah has steadily risen, with Intensive Care Units now at 90% capacity. This third wave will likely continue throughout the entirety of spring semester.
WHEREAS, The mental health of college-aged students is among the most adversely affected by the pandemic. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August, 2020, one in four 18-24 year olds had “seriously considered suicide” at the end of June. A separate study found that 58 percent of college students surveyed were “moderately,” “very” or “extremely” worried about their own mental health. Poor mental health has adverse effects on student performance.
WHEREAS, Students are facing food, job, and housing insecurity at historically high rates. It was reported that 3 out of 5 students were experiencing basic need insecurity this spring. This insecurity affects students’ capacity to learn and complete schoolwork at the same rate as pre-COVID-19.
WHEREAS, Neither instructors nor students are teaching and learning in a traditional format. 75% of students are currently being taught in non-traditional methods (asynchronous, IVC, hybrid) creating additional uncertainty and frequently exacerbating feelings of loneliness and anxiety. This has adverse effects on student performance.
WHEREAS, The University of Utah has adjusted the schedule of Spring Semester 2021 to remove the traditional spring break. The University has recently added two additional non-instructional days, leaving three days eliminated from a traditional Spring Break.
WHEREAS, Some programs on campus have committed to providing a break from classes during the traditional spring break, like the College of Law who will reserve the week of March 8-12 for “reading, review and catch-up.”
WHEREAS, Students across campus have expressed burnout, fatigue, and significant concern about the Spring semester with statements such as “I feel lost in my classes,” “it has been impossible to achieve my traditionally high grades,” and "I hate my life and don’t know why I want to do this anymore.”
WHEREAS, Graduate student instructors are doubly extended, currently both teaching and attending classes during a pandemic. They are fulfilling roles as instructors and students without breaks or additional support.
WHEREAS, The World Health Organization (WHO) recently warned of “pandemic fatigue,” in which citizens, having made “huge sacrifices” due to COVID-19 will more than likely begin to feel apathetic, tired, and discouraged.
WHEREAS, The American Council of Education, in their report “Mental Health, Higher Education, and Covid-19,” has recommended that University leaders “ensure that communication to students is consistent, caring, and clear,” and that faculty provide frequent mental health check-ins and “reasonable flexibility and accommodations” for students during this time.
WHEREAS, The American Council of Education, in their report “Mental Health, Higher Education, and Covid-19,” has also recommended that University leaders “should consider realigning expectations for productivity and increasing flexibility” for faculty and staff.
WHEREAS, Faculty and instructors across the country have adopted an adjusted syllabus statement, created by Dr. Brandon Bayne (UNC-Chapel Hill) in response to the pandemic. The statement assures students that “nobody signed up for this,” and “we cannot just do the same thing online.”
WHEREAS, National research has posed ethical questions about mandating that students turn their camera during COVID-19. (See 5 reasons to let students keep their cameras off, Immersive v. Intrusive learning)
WHEREAS, Utah State Legislature has amended the definition of a "valid excuse" for K-12 students to mean a physical or mental illness. (See NYT article and local reporting.)
WHEREAS, there is a significant power differential between any instructor and their students which can discourage students from sharing their needs or concerns.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Academic Senate of the University of Utah that the University and faculty consider taking one or more of the following actions (to the extent consistent with accreditation and pedagogical objectives) in collaboration with ASUU:
- Instructors should verbally discuss the opportunity for assignment extensions and accommodations with students as well as include this reassurance in the syllabus.
- Instructors should verbally discuss the credit/no credit options for the class as well as include this information in the syllabus.
- Provide an opportunity to discuss the implications of credit/no credit choices on students’ academic course of study, as well as options for appealing this designation.
- Instructors should verbally discuss their plans for recording/ not recording the class meetings and allow for students to request, confidentially, that they not be recorded.
- Instructors choose not to assign work to be due during the week that is traditionally Spring Break (March 7-14, 2020).
- Instead, this can be a “reading week” to allow students to catch up on coursework or work ahead.
- Instructors provide a 5-minute “biology break” per each hour of class on Zoom.
- Students and faculty can use this time to use the restroom, hydrate, stand and/or stretch.
- This does not add to the class length.
- Instructors consider workload/ reading assignments in conjunction with student mental health and check in twice during the semester about workload and course pacing.
- Administration and ASUU can work with the University Wellness center to create a suggested survey that faculty can use.
- Beginning of semester example survey here. Check-in example survey here.
- Instructors may encourage, but should not require students to leave cameras on.
- As an alternative, instructors should consider encouraging other forms of student engagement such as Zoom chat, discussion boards, polling, or whiteboard, etc.
- Instructors assigning asynchronous work should match the workload of a synchronous course (3 hours per credit hour outside of class).
- Additionally, instructors should consider realistic expectations for their own capacity to review assignments and provide feedback, and adjust workload accordingly.
- Instructors should provide 3 “mental health days,” for students that can be taken off, similar to excused absences, in observance of their mental health and wellbeing.
- These should not require medical documentation.
- Students can be asked to make up missed work, like any excused absence.
- Instructors should consider issuing an extended deadline on this work due to student absence.
- Additionally, instructors should utilize their own sick days for mental health maintenance whenever they need it.