On November 17, 2020, at 12:45 p.m., the Student Government Association (SGA) held their semesterly President-Provost Forum event. The event was livestreamed on YouTube, and can be viewed at https://bit.ly/33w2he7.
SGA Executive President Alexander Kern was the emcee of the forum. Attendees of the forum included Illinois Tech President Alan Cramb and Illinois Tech Provost Peter Kilpatrick. Also in attendance were Katherine Stetz (Dean of Students), Michael D. Horan (Illinois Tech CFO and VP of Finance), Bruce Watts (VP for Facilities and Public Safety), Nick Menhart (Associate Professor of Biology) and Mike Gosz (Vice President of Enrollment), among others. The event was organized by SGA Vice President Martina Dimitrova and the SGA Events Committee.
The event kicked off with some opening words by President Cramb, in which he remarked that Illinois Tech has had a relatively low COVID-19 positivity rate compared to surrounding areas, thanks to the collective following of the social distancing guidelines by the Illinois Tech community. He also spoke about the recent philanthropic contributions by Illinois Tech alumni, such as the funding of Kaplan Institute and the introductions of Kacek Hall and Cunningham Hall. President Cramb expressed his hope for the success of the Coronavirus vaccine so that Illinois Tech can return to some level of normalcy in the future.
Will graduate courses be pass / fail this semester?
Provost Kilpatrick said that graduate students would not be eligible for the Pass/Fail Policy because he had heard very few reports of graduate students experiencing the same kind of mental distress that the undergraduate students were facing. Another reason for this is that graduate programs are very short compared to undergraduate programs, so a whole semester where GPA is not counted may negatively affect students’ GPA and transcript. However, the Pass/Fail option is available for students who are doing a co-terminal program. Graduate students can also apply for a special appeal if they are facing a unique situation in their courses this semester.
Some universities (such as the University of Washington) are letting students choose classes to be graded as pass/fail, on a course-by-course basis. Would IIT be open to a similar option?
Provost Kilpatrick said that the University Faculty Council discussed this and they strongly decided that the Pass/Fail policy should be all opt-in or all opt-out to avoid grade manipulation. However, students can apply for special appeal if they are facing a unique situation with their courses.
Students have personally felt the effects of the broken contact tracing process (i.e. relying on a sick person to relay information to contacts because they were still awaiting their test results, no staff following up with direct contacts, refusing to test those without symptoms even if they were roommates with those with symptoms, staff being rude to students who may have had contact with a sick person about quarantining even though information was never properly given). Do you acknowledge these issues and intend to fix them?
VP of Enrollment Mike Gosz said that he wanted to understand more about the instances of rudeness towards students by staff so that the issues can be rectified. “We have a whole team that works on [contact tracing],” said Gosz. This team is led by Julia Arnopp Burns, who is a Emergency Management Specialist and works with the COVID-19 crisis management team at Illinois Tech, as well as the Human Resources staff and the Student Health & Wellness Center. When the team learns of a positive coronavirus case, they reach out to the person and ask them to report recent close contacts. On-campus residents who test positive are to self-isolate in an apartment-style unit on campus with private restrooms. Close contacts are put in self-quarantine. Illinois Tech as a partnership with the nearby Hilton Hotel, where students do their self-quarantine. Alternatively, students can do their self-quarantine at home if living off-campus alone or with family. Recently, Illinois Tech received a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certificate, which enables the university to perform tests on students who have had close contact with coronavirus-positive people, and this has helped the school track down cases much faster and more efficiently along with the usage of BioFire tests.
Do you plan enhancing the testing capabilities next semester?
Illinois Tech will continue to do random testing of students to ensure the health of the student body. Currently the school is making strategic plans based on what the pandemic will look like in the future.
Could the Hawk Unlimited meal plan stop being compulsory for first and second year students? Can the Talon 50 meal plan be restored?
Gosz said that Illinois Tech is in partnership with Chartwells Catering, and each year they do a renewal of contracts. Next month will be the next renewal of the partnership contract, which will involve Illinois Tech CFO Michael D. Horan and Dean Stetz. Gosz has also been discussing with students from SGA about this, and during their negotiation with Chartwells, survey data and feedback from students will be brought up to vouch for more flexibility in the meal plan choices for students. Additionally, Dean Stetz is in communication with Chartwells regarding flexibility in the meal plans, and possible enhancement for current options and adding new options or restoring older ones like the Talon 50 meal plan.
Is there a possibility for IIT to go fully online? Will tuition rates fall should classes be moved exclusively online? Is summer 2021 and fall 2021 semester going to be online as well?
President Cramb said that Illinois Tech has no plans currently to move classes exclusively online in the future, but optional online courses will be available for certain classes. Regardless of whether students take classes online or in-person, the tuition rates won’t change. Professor Menhart added that there is a possibility that Illinois Tech may move completely online should the pandemic intensify, but currently the plan is to have a mix of online and in-person classes and lab sessions. According to Provost Kilpatrick, there is a low chance that Illinois Tech will go fully online for more than a short period of time. As for the summer and fall semesters of 2021, the likelihood of going fully online is low as well.
Why aren’t study materials such as books, homework, software, etc. included in the students’ tuition fees?
VP of Finance Michael Horan replied that the reason for is this is that with books and software, there are many options available to obtain them, such as buying used materials, leasing renting, etc. Every class has a different set of requirements, so material costs would have to be a fixed rate if they are part of the tuition, which can prove inflexible, as many students may be potentially undercharged or over charged due to variability in the cost of materials.
How do you ensure the quality of online instruction?
When concerns of lack of quality in online education reach Illinois Tech administration, the dean of the department is usually alerted about the faculty member(s) in question. In the past, interventions have been made to ensure that lectures are being taught synchronously and that social distancing is being enforced.
Will GPA requirements be waived for reviewed for the Accelerated Master’s Program? Many credits often count as “pass” instead of an “A” as a result of the academic COVID-19 policies, which puts more pressure on students to succeed in the final semester or two, while taking online classes still.
Provost Kilpatrick reported that the academic departments are very sensitive to the unique circumstances due to the pandemic, and students who have concerns about qualifying for academic programs such as the Accelerated Master’s program should speak with their academic advisors and faculty members about their concerns to see what accommodations can be made.
Is there anything that can be done about the fall & spring only classes? Given the unpredictable and difficult circumstance that COVID has brought and will most likely continue to bring, students have had to withdraw from classes due to difficult circumstances that weren't able to be anticipated beforehand. With fall/spring only courses, doing bad in a class/having to drop a class automatically extends graduation because of having to wait a year just to take the same class again and the chain of classes that follows gets pushed back. For certain classes, the lists for spring/fall only classes are a lot longer than other majors. So if students have to drop a class, or did badly this semester given circumstances that have risen beyond their control, they'd have to delay graduation by a year because the chain of classes that follow gets pushed back as well since we have to wait until a year later.
Provost Kilpatrick said that it would be a good option to offer more courses in the summer semesters so that students have the ability to catch up on credits and graduate on time. Another option being explored is online master classes that can be taken at any time during the year and/or with the consultation of a faculty member. Yet another option also being discussed is J-term courses, which will take place between the fall and spring semesters during the winter break.
Will the school ever get rid of virtual learning if/when the COVID period ends or is under control? Or will it be an open option for students to come in person or take online?
Virtual learning has been a part of Illinois Tech’s features for a long time, according to President Cramb. So virtual learning options will not completely be gone. Provost Kilpatrick said that with online courses, there needs to be more engagement between students and faculty during lectures. Professor Menhart added that communication is key when it comes to any kind of learning.
Is there a way to review the duration of exam questions i.e. the duration of the exam could be based on the number of questions and the time it takes a student to solve each question since some questions may take longer to solve?
Provost Kilpatrick and Professor Menhart said that most of the faculty try to ensure that exams have enough time for the average student to complete them, but outliers will always be there among students. For any concerns, however, faculty are always open to discuss issues with exam duration, if any.
Can spring break be changed to how it was before originally?
The short answer is no. The university and the SGA have been discussing for a while on what the best option is for the school, according to President Cramb. The university has decided and agreed that there will not be a spring break in 2021, and instead there will be days off spread evenly throughout the semester for students to relax and study.
Is there a way to dedicate one full week for tests or midterm exams only to avoid having conflicts instead of having different dates for midterm exams?
This will not be possible; however, faculty will be making adjustments to their schedules and curriculums to fit the new circumstances for the semester without a spring break. Professor Nick Menhart said that students can always speak to faculty if there are any conflicts with exam schedules. Professors are recommended to also allow more opportunities to earn grades besides a few high-stakes exams or projects, so that students can still recover from poor assignment performances.
Regarding organization event registration: ARCA-IIT is trying to create weekly general body meetings for all Masters level RMHC cohorts. When I go to iit.presence.io the form will not let me enter a value for "Host" and therefore I am unable to create the event. I also watched the how-to video here and I noticed that I don't have an "Admin Dashboard" option in my pull down menu. Please let me know how I may gain access to "Admin Dashboard."
Students are encouraged to contact Associate VP of Strategic Initiatives April Welch ([email protected]) and Head of Career Services Thy Nguyen ([email protected]) as they know how to fix issues with BuyIt.
Who will be replacing Patrick Fina as head of Campus Life? And will the department be expanded so the job does not rest entirely on one person? Patrick Fina was overworked and the new OCL head should at least have an assistant.
Illinois Tech recently posted a position for a new Director of Campus Life which will be filled as soon as possible, and moving forward, the school will create a deeper bench within OCL. All the Campus Life-related positions such as Residence Hall directors, Greek Life coordinators, etc. are being looked at and will be formed into one team so that programming for both housing and organizations will come from the same source, so that all the functions are shared by a team and not put on one individual.
When will IIT start a real recycling program? The blue bins and the 4-slot bins around campus are linked to only 2 or 3 trash cans. The "recycled" stuff is never sorted and never cleaned. Many times, the janitorial staff will take all of the trash from the 4-slot bins and throw them away into the garbage cans.
Bruce Watts said that Illinois Tech’s recycling program often relies on an old system which trusts students to place only recyclable items in the recycle bins and vice versa, but often, students do not follow these rules. To combat this, IIT has partnered with a firm to provide a safety net for the recyclable items. Waste is sorted and organized into two streams where non-recyclable garbage goes to a landfill, and recyclables are recycled. Ultimately, all recyclable material is co-mingled and compacted on campus, and then sent to IIT’s vendor, which breaks them apart at their facility. Most of the trash is anyway sorted at the facility, which is why the janitorial staff does not separate them on campus while removing trash. Food and organic waste is separated into a third stream by IIT Food and Dining, which goes into various sustainability operations.
With winter taking over, the semester getting tougher and things getting intense, students need support from loved ones and need to especially be physically connected. The no-guests in dorm rooms rule is an effective response to COVID-19 and efforts to protect our community, but in these tough months, this rule is contributing to deteriorating students’ mental health. It is also unfair because students that do not live on campus can be allowed in while other non-IIT students aren't. Some students propose and urge to update this policy with residents allowed to have guests but satisfy stricter requirements like: all guests need to temperature screened before being allowed in, no resident is allowed to have more than 2 or 3 (maybe even 1) guests over, roommates need to be ok with having people over, and other fair requirements.
President Cramb responded that Illinois Tech will look into this and will try to come up with more updated policies to ensure both physical and mental health and safety in light of the pandemic. Gosz and Stetz are going to be looking into exploring options for this policy and also will gather student feedback.
There was not enough time to cover all the live questions that were submitted during the forum; however answers to these questions will be released later on.