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Important Reminders for Faculty
I hope you’ve had an enjoyable winter break, with some time spent with loved ones and friends. Thank you all for everything you did to make the fall semester a successful one for our students. The energy on campus was wonderful to experience. I want to extend special thanks to all of you who taught our first-year students, helping them to transition effectively to their college experience. We had a larger-than-expected first-year class this year, and I appreciate the good work that everyone on campus did to welcome them to our community.
As we begin the Spring 2023 semester, I am writing to share some thoughts and updates on several topics, including:
- Religious Observance Notifications
- Student Mental Health
- Additional Resources
As always, the Important Syllabus Reminders webpage contains details on the topics covered in this message, as well as many other topics. It also includes suggested language for several sections of your syllabi.
Religious Observance Notifications
Based on feedback and questions I received from students, faculty and staff in the fall, I think there may be some uncertainty about how we work with students who wish to observe religious holidays.
The University’s Religious Observances Policy recognizes the right of students to be absent from class for faith-based observances. Students must register their expected absences on MySlice (Student Services/Enrollment/My Religious Observances/Add a Notification). This semester, the deadline for these notifications is Feb. 7, coinciding with the academic drop deadline.
If a student has posted a religious observance notification, instructors may not require academic work to be done or submitted on that date. The due date for any such work should be adjusted to an appropriate date after the religious observance so as not to disadvantage the student.
Faculty are encouraged to plan proactively the dates of exams, group presentations and other significant class events to avoid major religious holidays. Hendricks Chapel maintains a list of holy days and holidays for many world religions. While you may receive notifications related to a wide array of faith traditions, you are most likely to encounter the following:
- Jan. 22: Lunar New Year
- April 5-13: Passover (begins at sundown on April 5; students are most likely to submit notifications for April 5-7; April 11-13 are also considered “no work” days; some students may submit notifications for those dates)
- April 7, 9: Good Friday, Easter
- April 21-22: Eid al-Fitr (sundown-sundown)
In addition, many Indigenous students participate in important religious observances on dates that are only determined by their community leaders a few weeks or days in advance. This frequently makes it impossible for the student to enter the observance in MySlice by the specified deadline. I ask that you work with these students to help them participate in these observances while continuing to make academic progress in your classes.
The emergence of the artificial intelligence (AI) tool ChatGPT has generated a great deal of interest in the last month or so. This utility, which can provide relatively nuanced and lengthy responses to user-provided questions, with credible grammar and style, has all the markings of a truly disruptive technology.
I have received a few messages from faculty who teach writing-intensive courses, expressing their concern that students could submit writing produced by ChatGPT for grading. This would be a clear violation of the University’s academic integrity policy, yet without reliable tools for detecting text generated by ChatGPT, it will be difficult to prevent students from trying it. A recent Fast Company article identifies some new tools that attempt to detect text written by an AI engine. Faculty should be careful in using these tools as their reliability remains largely unproven. It should also be noted that AI-generated text is “original” in the sense that there is no source text from which it is derived, making it a challenge to prove definitively its AI origin.
Another article, which appeared in Inside Higher Education, provides perspectives from a variety of voices in higher education. I encourage anyone with an interest or concern about these emerging technologies to read it. I can personally attest that my colleagues at peer institutions are reporting a wide range of reactions to ChatGPT on their campuses.
I have asked the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence to develop guidance for faculty on how they can navigate this issue. In the meantime, I encourage you to make your expectations clear in your syllabus and in your assignments.
I should also note that some faculty may wish to have their students use ChatGPT as part of their coursework. It is a fairly sophisticated AI that is certainly worthy of study and examination.
Student Mental Health
During the pandemic, students across the country have reported elevated levels of stress, anxiety and depression. In some cases, students bring these concerns directly to their instructors, perhaps in the context of a missed assignment or poor performance in the course. The Barnes Center wellness team has developed a toolkit for faculty to help them navigate this challenging situation. The following text has been provided by the Barnes Center and may be included in your syllabus at your discretion:
“Mental health and overall well-being are significant predictors of academic success. As such it is essential that during your college experience you develop the skills and resources effectively to navigate stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns. Please familiarize yourself with the range of resources the Barnes Center provides (experience.syracuse.edu/bewell) and seek out support for mental health concerns as needed. Counseling services are available 24/7, 365 days a year, at 315.443.8000. I encourage you to explore the resources available through the Wellness Leadership Institute (experience.syracuse.edu/bewell/well-being/wellness-leadership-institute).”
The Center for Learning and Student Success (CLASS) offers two academic mindfulness workshops, “Reduce Stress by Approaching Your Next Exam Mindfully” and “Conquer Procrastination by Tackling Assignments Mindfully.” Please feel free to promote these to your students generally, or specifically to students who you think would benefit.
As mentioned above, please consult the Academic Affairs website for more detailed information and suggested syllabus language on a wide range of topics. I note only a few below:
- All faculty are obliged to follow the University’s policies and federal law related to serving students with disabilities. The Center for Disability Resources (CDR) is your partner in these processes. The Disability Faculty Portal, located in the Faculty Services area of MySlice, can be used to view accommodation letters for your students, upload exams and assignments, and provide feedback to CDR. Please note that instructors may elect to administer their own exams for students who have disability-related accommodations. This is often easier for both student and instructor.
- Last year, we introduced a new system for reporting incomplete grades. Incomplete grades must now be accompanied by a letter grade that reflects the final grade to be assigned if the student does not resolve the incomplete. More information and guidance on how to record incomplete grades is available from the University Registrar.
- Please consider using some form of mid-semester assessment in your classes. The Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment (IEA) can help you design and implement a brief survey of your students to gather feedback. This sort of interim assessment can be very informative, and students really appreciate the opportunity to provide instructors with their thoughts on how the course is going. If you would like help, contact IEA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wish you the best for this semester, and I thank you for your efforts to help our students reach their academic goals.
Associate Provost for Academic Affairs