Northwestern Faculty Senate discusses Affordable Instructional Resources, remote learning in Spring Quarter


Daily file photo by Alison Abelda

Faculty Senate president and Feinberg prof. Lois Hedman.

Isabelle Sarraf, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern University Faculty Senate’s first virtual meeting opened with remarks by Faculty Senate president and Feinberg Prof. Lois Hedman about the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her report outlined the impact that the spread of the novel coronavirus has had on the broad NU community.

Hedman discussed recent concerns about Provost Jonathan Holloway’s directive that Winter Quarter undergraduate final assessments be made optional. This decision, she said, was seen by some faculty as the administration “undermining faculty autonomy” in the classroom.

“We’re confident that this particular decision was carried out in a time-sensitive context with the intention of solving an immediate problem and where consultation with other constituencies was not feasible,” Hedman said.

Acknowledging that the University’s goal is to return to business as usual as soon as possible, Hedman said after discussions with administrators, she believes the University will preserve the authority of faculty members to the greatest extent possible during this crisis. She also said the Faculty Senate plans to consult and continue to reach out to administrators for the duration of the outbreak.

Weinberg non-tenure eligible faculty representative and economics Prof. Mark Witte brought up questions regarding the uncertainties around remote learning during Spring Quarter.

“I have some sympathy about how it came out, (but) I didn’t like how it was done,” Witte said.

Witte said he and his constituents were wondering whether administrators would consider Pass/Fail grades, the availability of course evaluations and how to handle matters of academic integrity in virtual classrooms. When asked how much faculty input there has been in crisis response, Hedman said there has not been much because of how fast-moving the University’s COVID-19 response has become.

Director of teaching and learning technologies Victoria Getis also spoke during the meeting about Northwestern’s Affordable Instructional Resources. The initiative is meant to incentivize faculty to list required course materials in CAESAR prior to student registration, she said.

Getis presented the group’s findings that have been collected using information from the Office of the Registrar every quarter since Winter 2019. Since then, the proportion of lecture, lab and seminar courses with information in the required materials field on CAESAR has increased from about 33 to 56 percent.

When Getis broke the information down by undergraduate school, however, there was a massive gap between Medill, which reached 90 percent, and the other five schools, none of which surpassed 40 percent. The Affordable Instructional Resources group, she said, is meeting regularly with program assistants to try to fix this discrepancy.

“The reason that this is important is because we already know how much students are stressed about how much their course materials cost, and the sooner they get the information about what course materials are required the sooner they can go out and find cost-effective alternatives and methods of getting those materials,” Getis said.

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