REL COVID-19 Update

Graphic from University of Alabama COVID-19 Response Site

It’s been an interesting few weeks in REL, to say the least; given the worldwide spread of COVID-19, the University of Alabama extended Spring break, asked students not to return to campus after it, and released a plan to alter how we finish the semester. Originally we planned to re-open main offices on the Monday after Spring break but the so-called limited business operation (LBO) of campus has been extended until Sunday, March 29 (with only essential employees allowed on campus) — though this is all subject to change, as UA System officials and campus leadership reassess a situation that changes daily. For example, as of March 19 the libraries closed and stop loaning material. But classes are indeed still moving to an online format, effective Monday, March 30, and your professors will be in touch — if not already — with the plan for each course. They’ve been working throughout the Spring break to devise a plan for their large lectures, seminars, independent studies, and graduate courses (just as some have been thinking up activities for their own children, who are themselves home from school). And we’ve all been in touch with each other regularly, to ensure that everyone is in the loop and doing well.

Which we all are.

So far, we’ve been communicating with everyone via email, but it seemed time to put a post up on the blog, to update everyone on a few things.

We’ve made a few revisions to help us through this time as smoothly as possible; for instance, as all undergrad majors and minors already know, the College of Arts and Sciences will automatically clear all students to register for Summer and Fall classes, doing so at the end of March; so, whether advised or not, all returning undergrad students can register. Each Department is announcing it’s specific plan for advising and Prof. Mike Altman, our Undergrad Director, will soon be contacting our majors and minors with our plan, making sure everyone is using DegreeWorks to make good decisions about their courses and degree requirements.

Prof. Simmons, our Graduate Director, has been in touch with our graduate supervisors and returning grad students, to ensure that they’re both discussing Fall enrollments; we’ve removed the usual Permit process so, once they’ve communicated with their supervisor, our grad students can just enroll in their Fall courses without obtaining a Permit from our main office. And she has also contacted incoming MA students; unfortunately, we had no choice but to cancel the planned day when incoming grad students were to visit campus this month (but we did meet one, who came to campus from out-of-state, over the Spring break!). We’re here to answer any questions and our incoming students know how to contact current grad students if they have questions for them. So far we’ve had several students commit to accepting our offer of admission and we’re waiting to hear back from a few more — we’re looking forward to a great Fall semester with our largest MA class yet.

Regular readers know that we canceled all public events in REL for the rest of the semester, seeing campus-wide cancellations coming. Now, such campus-wide events as Honors Week, Commencement, etc., have been canceled by the university. And UA is developing a plan to stagger the visits of students eventually returning to campus to collect their belongings from the residence system. The goal, in the short term, is to keep campus as empty as possible to assist with stemming the spread of the virus.

The site for all up-to-date info from the University of Alabama.

As they’ve prepared for their own switch to online teaching, faculty have been sharing resources with each other and with faculty elsewhere, such as Prof. Richard Newton’s detailed and really helpful post; there’s a surprising amount of material out there in the public domain and faculty across the nation, and elsewhere, will certainly be taking full advantage of it. (If you’re bored at home, and caught-up with all of your streaming series, see Prof. Newton’s recommendations — it’s a good time to catch up on podcasts in the study of religion, maybe?) We’ll be relying on technology and assuming our students also have access to it, but faculty will be nimble and ready to adapt if students contact them with difficulties or access problems — be in touch with your professors, sooner than later, if you have questions or need them to know that you’re facing challenges making the transition asked of all of us. Sometimes, less is more, given the volume of people who will be moving to some of the available online technologies, so while some of your classes will probably involve teleconference meetings others might include file attached reading and writing assignments.

And, in the midst of all this, we have our longtime staff members — Betty Dickey and Donna Martin — on the verge of retirement (as of April 1), with two new staff, LeCretia Crumpton and Edward Guy, already working and coming up to speed. The transition has been going well and continues in the coming week, working remotely instead of in-person.

That’s about it — you can contact us via email or phone if you have questions, though contacting each of your faculty members is the best bet for course questions. The university has made clear that benefiting the situation our students now find themselves in is our highest priority, so we’re hoping that you understand that we’re here to remove obstacles and help you to finish the semester successfully.

Oh, and one more thing….