Office of the Provost
1201 West University Dr.
ESSBL - Executive Tower 5.101
Edinburg, TX 78539
Phone: (956) 665-2111
Message from the Provost and School of Medicine Dean - October 11, 2021
It is hard to believe that we are approaching the 20-month mark of this pandemic. We have worked together on behalf of our students and have continued to stay focused on the health and well-being of each other and our broader community.
Since March 2020, we have adjusted to ensure the safety and health of ourselves and our campus community while still ensuring that our students remained engaged, learning, and successful. Each semester the health conditions have changed as has the guidance from our medical community, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Slowly but surely, and thanks to medical advances, we are moving toward a return to normalcy, albeit forever changed. The university, from the beginning, has put the health and safety of every university member first. Unlike other institutions across the country, we have experienced no layoffs and no furloughs; on the contrary, we have even experienced growth and provided pay increases. All of this was made possible because we prioritized our students and their learning while ensuring each other’s safety.
The CDC has issued specific guidance for institutions of higher education. UTRGV has carefully followed this guidance with the help of our School of Medicine and our health faculty and students who have been on the front line since the beginning with testing, case management, vaccines, and now boosters. We have delivered these services to our campus community which has resulted in the self-reported vaccination rates listed below.
We have much to be proud of in the RGV when it comes to our vaccination rates.
Source: UTRGV portal as of October 7, 2021.
In addition, our region has among the highest vaccination rates in the state.
at least 1 dose
Source: DSHS, October 4, 2021.
Spring 2022 Planning
As we approach the opening of registration for spring, I wanted to share an update on planned operations. As a state institution in Texas and as a member of The University of Texas System, we will be back to full operations in spring 2022. This is in line with every other UT academic institution, with the majority of those institutions already at full operation this fall.
As we planned last spring for the fall 2021 semester, we were optimistic that vaccines would be widespread by the summer and would allow us to return to some sense of normalcy this fall semester. We have extended the greatest of flexibility this fall semester in support of our faculty, staff and students as we transitioned to a post-vaccination world. As noted above, our campus and community vaccination rates, the availability of vaccine boosters, and the expansion of vaccine eligibility allow us to steadily resume full operations.
For spring 2022 as of 10/6/21, our course modalities are as follows. This provides a healthy mix of modalities thus giving students the needed choices.
Modality decisions will continue to be made by faculty, department chairs, and deans and must be based on the needs of various stakeholders such as students, faculty, and accreditors, to name a few. The discussion about modality begins with the faculty member who is the content expert, but these decisions are not made in isolation. They are based on the unique demands of the course content, the most effective learning strategies for our students, and peer-tested teaching practices of the discipline. These choices are discipline- and often course-specific, so it is critical for disciplinary faculty to engage in substantive discussions about teaching to determine what the most effective strategies and course designs are for delivering the highest quality education for our students. Faculty, chairs, and deans must further ensure a course schedule that meets the needs of our students in terms of degree progression, modality mix, and campus distribution (Brownsville, Edinburg, online). It is imperative that we look at our campus distribution to ensure we do not unnecessarily require our students to travel between campuses. Part of UTRGV’s commitment is to expand educational opportunities. We have done that over the last five years and recognize that some programs are only offered on one campus or another. In these specific cases, we offer a bus service to ensure transportation does not inhibit educational attainment. However, for degree programs offered on both campuses, our students should not need to travel between campuses to take a course.
As a reminder, the SACSCOC blanket waiver of modality has expired. Programs not approved to be offered online prior to the pandemic must undergo a review and approval process. It is imperative that we track our offerings by program to ensure we do not violate SACSCOC standards. Further, policies and opportunities remain in place for faculty teaching online, hybrid, and web-augmented courses and programs.
Our faculty have taken the lead in using technology to engage students during the pandemic. We are excited about the possibilities and are looking forward to seeing the continued development and implementation of these new practices on behalf of our students.
When reviewing our course offerings, we would be remiss if we did not also consider the student point of view. More than 32,000 students have chosen UTRGV to fulfill their educational dreams. Our Student Affairs and Student Success teams routinely survey a subset of our students on a variety of topics to inform our outreach efforts. One recent poll focused on modality and its relationship to supporting their academic success. We will survey further to gain a better understanding of what our students need to stay on track with their studies. This will continue to inform our efforts and offerings.
Commitment to Safety and Success
In closing, we are committed to using the science and medical guidance and monitoring the infection rates as we have since the start of the pandemic. Since late August, new COVID cases in the U.S. have fallen by more than 30%. At UTRGV, the availability of on-campus vaccines, vaccine boosters, testing, and case management coupled with proven practices to prevent the spread (face coverings, hand washing, etc.) allow us to deliver our courses and services in a face-to-face and hybrid environment safely. We will continue to monitor and will pivot as needed; however, for now, we have the tools to keep ourselves and each other safe.
In the coming weeks, we will highlight faculty, staff, and students who are excelling at navigating these complicated times. We hope that these will not only serve as an inspiration but will spark ideas that each of us can adopt in our own classes and work environments. Please join me in celebrating the successes of our students, our faculty, and our staff.
Janna Arney, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President and Provost
Michael B. Hocker, M.D.
Dean, School of Medicine and Senior VP, UT Health RGV