Faculty 2021 Fall FAQ

Classrooms and other classroom spaces, such as research labs, studios, and clinics

Q. The faculty senate’s mask resolution asked that faculty could be exempt from a mask requirement if their teaching would be impaired by wearing masks and/or by requiring their students to wear a mask. Examples that come to mind are disciplines within the arts, i.e. wind instrument instruction and performance, theater, voice etc. But also, languages where lip placement and mouth movement are important visuals for successful teaching. Do we have strategies to ensure that teaching can be effectively achieved in these courses? Will some exceptions be made where online teaching may be more effective than masked teaching in person? Are we considering to allow red/blue-like rotations in courses that are problematic to be taught with masks but where no distancing in possible due to the number of students in class?

Faculty whose pedagogy necessitates that they not wear masks for student instruction (e.g., wind instrument instruction, voice, language instruction) are exempt from this requirement but should endeavor to maintain appropriate social distance or other reasonable safety measures. In all such cases, the faculty must notify their dean’s office of this decision for exemption. As a SACSCOC accredited institution, SMU has committed to and informed its accreditors that all courses, other than those offered online prior to the pandemic, will be fully in person therefore courses will not be offered online, hybrid or red/blue rotations under our current risk level.

Q. How do faculty enforce the mask requirement? 

If a student does not wear a mask even after you make the request and provide them with a mask (every dean’s office has extra masks for you to pick up and take to class), you can ask them to leave class that day and arrange a time to meet with you prior to the next class. You should then report the situation to the department chair, who will work with the dean’s office and Provost Office to provide further direction. Faculty can add a professionalism/participation grade of up to 10% of the total grade to include expectations, which could include wearing masks in class. Students who indicate a medical reason for not wearing a mask must go through the DASS Office for accommodations. Until they have DASS Office approval, which would be communicated to you in the same protocol as all DASS accommodations, they are required to comply with the temporary mask requirement.

Q. How will masks be provided? 

Each School/College has a designated contact person who will tell you how to obtain masks in your area.

Q. If one of my students has a medical condition which prevents them from wearing a mask for extended periods of time, how do they seek an exception if I am requiring it in my classroom?

Students who indicate a medical reason for not wearing a mask must go through the DASS Office for accommodations. Faculty should not independently grant accommodations to students or exceptions for mask wearing based on a medical reason. 

Q. When can faculty expect to have air-uptake back to the levels of last year?

All Cox and Dedman Law facilities have increased outside air intake to 50% as of 5 a.m. August 16.  All remaining facilities will have air intake increased to 50% by 5 a.m. Monday, August 23.

Office spaces and office hours

Q. Can I require masks during office hours with students? 

SMU has a temporary mask requirement in place. Individuals must wear a mask. When the temporary mask requirement is lifted, you can request that individuals wear a mask in offices, or arrange to host office hours in a larger space, including outdoors, during regular weekly office hours. You may also offer to meet virtually via Zoom for students who refuse to wear a mask or meet via Zoom outside of regular office hours. 

Q. Can I put up signs in my office that masks are required? 

While the temporary mask requirement is in place, you can use the following signage to be printed and posted in campus locations as needed.

Q. May I hold all of my office hours exclusively on Zoom?  

Not at this time so that our students have an opportunity for in-person office hours. For additional office hours, Zoom is an option, or if students do not comply with the mask requirement, you can meet via Zoom.

Attendance expectations and academic continuity

Q. Do I need to record my classes? 

Yes, as of September 7, each School and College has notified its faculty that recordings will be required so that students who are absent due to documented COVID-related reasons will have access to recordings for academic continuity.

Q. If all of my students are physically present in class, do I still need to record?

Please confirm with your particular department chair or dean’s office. Given the differences in class sizes and pedagogical approaches, this would be best answered at your department or School/College level.

Q. Does this mean I have to teach in the “Flex” mode and stand at the podium? 

Not necessarily. You can continue to teach based on your pedagogical approach. The goal is to provide flexibility and reasonable access to students who cannot be present because of a documented COVID-related illness. This does not require a shift in pedagogy to podium-based instruction. You could, for example, create a solo Zoom (just the faculty member and the camera and microphone) to record the class. This would create a recording that would be shared automatically after the class. Additionally, you could also turn off the camera and create an audio-only lecture that would automatically be uploaded to Panopto. This technology is in place and working today. Additional options for providing this flexibility to augment the required recording can be found at this reminder prepared by CTE. Please add this statement to your syllabus and Canvas course site to explain appropriate use to students: “Students are prohibited from posting the lecture recordings of in-person classes or syllabi to any external sites.”

Q. Who do I contact if I am not familiar with these technology options? 

To discuss available options for audio and video recording, please contact the OIT Help Desk or contact your school’s ATSD (listed here) so we can help determine technology options that meet the need.

Q. What guidance is in place if students in my class test positive for COVID-19?

You will receive an email notification from Associate Provost Sheri Kunovich, who works with the Dean of Students and the Health Center to ensure that all faculty are notified if they have a student who tests positive for COVID-19. This fall, the deans will be copied on those notifications so to have awareness of the case numbers within their Schools/College and to be aware of which faculty are navigating these situations. This email will provide you with more detailed information about options, including clear directions to work closely with your department chair (or in the Perkins School of Theology or Dedman School of Law with your dean) to have your questions answered or to develop options if needed.

Q. Am I required to teach via Zoom and/or SMUFlex? 

You are not required to at this time, and any temporary (two weeks or less) shift to Zoom under extenuating circumstances must first be approved by the department chair. Students who are absent for illness should work with the instructor and with the A-LEC support team to ensure academic continuity. You can allow an individual student to attend via Zoom, if that is an option you want to make available. You can certainly require that a student who attends in this modality provide you with documentation, which will be available to the student through the SMU Health Center. Be reminded that, as in the past, some students will have accommodations through DASS that might rely on recordings or other accommodations.

Q. What if I need to quarantine or isolate? 

Faculty should first report a positive test case to the employee reporting portal here. They should then report any instructional interruptions in the same way that they have always done by alerting their chair and the students with a clear plan for instructional continuity, which can include arranging for a substitute or using Zoom to teach remotely. The deans, associate deans, and chairs are working together to ensure that any temporary (two weeks or less) shift to Zoom is clearly communicated, so any temporary shift to Zoom must be approved by the department chair or, in the Dedman School of Law and Perkins School of Theology with your dean. Faculty should recognize that switching to Zoom may be more complicated for some students, and a 24-hour notice is reasonable for maintaining academic continuity. Due to our SACSCOC accreditation requirements, in-person class time cannot be substituted by out-of-class, independent work. Faculty can reach out to SMU Libraries and CTE for ideas, as they have also been developing short-term modules for ensuring academic continuity.

Q. What if I have a large number of students in a class who need to isolate or quarantine?

If you have multiple students in a small class, there might be times when one of the options for academic continuity might for a short (less than two weeks) period of shifting the class to Zoom. In these as with all cases where switching to Zoom temporarily needs to be an option, you need to work directly with your department chair or, in the Dedman School of Law and Perkins School of Theology with your dean, to agree on the best plan for such possible scenarios so that students can be informed about the solution.

Q. What if an exam is scheduled during a time period when students need to isolate or quarantine?

This situation may require alternatives for any in-person tests that were scheduled to take place during their period of quarantine or isolation. We ask that you maintain flexibility with the student to help them complete all assignments and exams on their originally scheduled date, assuming that the student is feeling well enough and you are able to find a remote solution.

Q. Will any of my students receive notification that they might need to quarantine as a close contact?

If you or other students in your class were identified as contacts through the contact tracing process, you and those identified students would have received separate outreach from a member of the Contact Tracing Team instructing you to quarantine if you are not vaccinated. Full details can be found here.

Q. How will tests be administered if a student is in quarantine/isolation?

In the event that a student is in quarantine or isolation, faculty should work with the student (as they would for any other extended illness) to reschedule/reconfigure the assessment and/or test. You have the option for online tests at your discretion.

Q. What options do I have for academic continuity if I am identified as a close contact?

If you are not vaccinated, you can either move the class to Zoom for the period of quarantine, or work with your department/dean to arrange for a substitute instructor. If you are vaccinated, you can either move the class to Zoom, work with your department/dean to arrange for a substitute, or you can require masks for the period of quarantine if you are vaccinated. As stated earlier, any option that moves the whole class to Zoom for a short period (two weeks or less) must be approved by the department chair, or in the case of the Dedman School of Law and Perkins School of Theology with your dean.

Students and faculty: Remote or virtual options

Q. Can undergraduate students apply to participate remotely in the fall? 

A very small number of undergraduate students (fewer than 10) have been approved to participate in class remotely under an approval process designed for exceptional circumstances. The Office of Student Academic Engagement and Success has been working directly with the instructors of students in this situation to ensure support for students and instructors.

Q. Can graduate/professional students apply to participate remotely in the fall? 

In May, all graduate and professional programs reported their status as in-person. Only one graduate program, the Master in International Arts Managements, requested an exemption. Students in all other graduate/professional programs should reach out to their dean’s office for more information about any possible exceptional circumstances and any options to apply for remote status.

Q. Can international students apply to participate remotely this fall? 

The Office of International Student and Scholar Services has worked closely with deans’ offices and the Provost Office to ensure academic continuity for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students whose circumstances can differ widely and whose visa status is controlled by federal guidelines. Visit this webpage for additional information, or contact Claudia Sotomayor Hart for questions.

Q. Can faculty teach virtually? 

Based on SMU’s accreditation status, we are a primarily in-person, on-campus university. Only those programs and classes previously approved for online delivery will be allowed to remain in the online format (e.g., OMBA, Masters in Data Science, etc.). The COVID-related temporary flexibility has been removed, and all employees have resumed in-person operations. Faculty with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation on the basis of a disability through the Office of Institutional Access and Equity as outlined in the Needs of Persons with Disabilities Policy (3.2):  https://www.smu.edu/IAE

Q. Do we have clear protocols/procedures that allow faculty with strongly immuno-compromised family to teach online?

All classes are to be held in person. The temporary relocation of instruction via Zoom or other virtual format ended in June for all undergraduate, graduate, and professional classes that were not approved for online delivery (e.g., Masters in Data Science, OMBA, etc.). Faculty with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation on the basis of a disability through the Office of Institutional Access and Equity as outlined in the Needs of Persons with Disabilities Policy (3.2).

The Office of Institutional Access and Equity reviews reasonable accommodation requests from the standpoint of an individual having a disability as defined in SMU’s policy that may or may not include individuals who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions, but accommodations are not extended on the basis of family members. If faculty seek options based on family members, they can consult the FMLA policy here and work through SMU Human Resources.

Graduate and professional programs

Q. Do graduate or professional programs have different mask or vaccine requirements than the undergraduate programs? 

Graduate and professional programs are under the same parameters as undergraduate programs within the umbrella of the university guidelines, so the parameters are the same across programs.

Q. I have graduate students who are requesting to take my class virtually. What are my options? 

Contact your dean’s office for clarification about how your School/College is approaching exemptions for students based on medical or other extenuating circumstances.

Q. What about continuing ed (non-credit) programs? What legal responsibilities do we have for someone who contracts COVID-19? Do we need to ask those students to sign a waiver?

Since CAPE faculty function as adjuncts, we are treating them with the same protocol as our faculty who teach credit-bearing courses. Any contact tracing would be through the CAPE office.  

Consistent with current SMU practice, please contact the Office of Legal Affairs if you are hosting an event or program with activities where you would like to discuss whether a Release or Waiver is required.  They will help with the determination and also coordinate any additional assessment of risks associated with your event with the Offices of Campus and Conference Services, Risk Management (ORM) and Facilities, as necessary. If OLA determines a Release should be used, the Office of Legal Affairs will prepare one for you that includes language addressing COVID-19 risks.

Contact Tracing Forms.  You may use the Health Reporting Form to facilitate contact ‎tracing for non-student university guests. The CCC Form is used only for students.‎

Changes in the virus and the University response

Q. What are the plans if case numbers continue to rise? How will the SMU community know about any changes in plans? 

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) meets every week to review information from all campus units, including risk management, academic affairs, student affairs, development and external affairs, legal affairs, etc. They review ongoing changes in the pandemic, including Dallas county, city, state, and local case numbers, hospitalization reports, and vaccination status; SMU community case numbers and self-reported vaccination numbers; governmental orders; federal, state, and local compliance requirements; and student/faculty/staff feedback. Any changes to operations will be announced via email and through the Mustang Strong website.

Q. If cases continue to climb, will SMU move to de-densify the campus or go fully virtual?

In the unlikely event that SMU can no longer conduct in-person instruction during the semester as a result of the ongoing pandemic, the University will move to all virtual instruction.

Tenure clock/research accommodation

Q. A number of universities have announced post-pandemic research quarters/semesters and/or course reductions for all or just those on the tenure track. Are there any discussions about offering this to research-active faculty? If not, why not?

Assoc. Provost Paige Ware and Dean Jim Quick are working with deans to bring forward recommendations so that we can support our research continuity. We plan on hosting at least two workshops related to this topic in the early fall. All faculty on the tenure track have been given an automatic one-year extension to the tenure clock, and additional considerations are developed in consultation with the deans and faculty members on an as-requested basis.

After reviewing all of this information, if I still have questions, to whom should I reach out? You can submit any additional questions here.


Q. Why isn’t SMU requiring the COVID-19 vaccine? How can the University require other vaccines but not for COVID-19?

Texas law sets forth minimum vaccination requirements for school entry for children and for institutions of higher education. Those requirements include many of your common vaccines, such as tetanus, diphtheria, polio, MMR and meningitis.

Texas law does not require the COVID-19 vaccine. At this time, neither does SMU. State law (in the form of the governor’s executive order from August 25 [GA-39]) inhibits any private entity receiving public funds from requiring the vaccine as a pre-condition to providing service. That order [GA-39] also encourages private schools and institutions of higher education to establish similar standards as those of the Texas Education Agency for public K-12 schools which cannot mandate masks or vaccines.

Q. Many of our aspirant institutions nationwide are requiring the vaccine, including many Texas peers (Rice was mentioned several times). Why not SMU?

Each university must establish appropriate COVID-19 operational plans fit the needs of their respective campus and community. Building upon the successful 2020-21 academic year, SMU has determined that this is the best way forward for us.

Since Rice University initially announced their expectation that all students would be vaccinated for COVID prior to the start of the fall semester, they’ve had to modify their plans to comply with SB 968, which is legislation that amended the Texas Government Code (Health and Safety) and inhibits governmental entities from requiring documentation of a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status for a purpose other than health care, or otherwise publish or share any individual’s COVID-19 immunization record or similar health information for a purpose other than health care.

The executive order from August [GA-39] prohibits entities who have received public funding for COVID from asking for proof that someone has gotten the vaccine. What Rice is now doing is requiring individuals to fill out a form indicating what their vaccine status is for the fall.

Students may indicate that they have no plans to get the vaccine for “medical, religious, philosophical, or other reasons”

Rice’s “vaccine mandate” is effectively optional which is why it does not run afoul of Governor Abbott’s executive order. We believe our energy was, and is, best spent on actually providing the vaccine on our campus, which we have done all summer and will continue to do.