I hope you’ve had a good summer and had the opportunity to relax and visit with friends and family. I look forward to seeing many of you back on campus, although I understand you may be concerned about the COVID-19 situation in Austin and what it means for the fall semester.
Campus health leaders sent an email last week and the provost sent one this week to all students about protective measures the university is taking leading up to the fall semester, including the requirement for all undergraduate and graduate students to receive a COVID-19 test prior to the start of the semester.
I wanted to provide details for how these protective measures affect graduate students. Also, I wanted to share some instructional resources for graduate student academic employees, which you may find helpful.
For the safety of our community, the university has determined that all students coming to campus for the fall semester should receive a viral COVID-19 test (antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test such as PCR). Please note that this applies to all graduate students—including graduate students who resided in Austin or worked on campus during the summer. Results should be uploaded to the UHS student portal, MyUHS.
Students coming from out of town must test within 72 hours prior to arrival in Austin. Students already residing in Austin must test within 72 hours of moving into their fall residence where they will live for the academic semester. Finally, individuals who are already living in their fall semester residence in Austin where they will live this academic semester must test within 72 hours (3 days) prior to the start of class on Aug. 25. Read the Frequently Asked Questions for more details on pre-arrival testing, including what type of test to get and instructions for uploading the results to the portal.
For students living in university-owned residential properties (on-campus residence halls, 2400 Nueces and the University Apartments), residence is conditional upon getting a viral COVID-19 test within 72 hours (three days) prior to moving in. You will need to show proof of a negative test result at check-in, prior to receiving your keys. Current residents who will continue living in these properties can test through the free UT Proactive Community Testing program as soon as possible but no later than August 20. Residents will need to show proof of a negative test at the check-in desks of their properties. Students who live in university-owned properties have received a message on this separate process for testing and should refer to that guidance as well as these Frequently Asked Questions.
If you test positive, you should isolate yourself at home. Contact the Behavior Concerns and COVID-19 Advice Line (BCCAL) to report your positive result. BCCAL can also assist you with isolation options, class absence notification and other support.
Instructional Resources for Graduate Students
For graduate students who will be working as teaching assistants (TAs) and assistant instructors (AIs), below are some resources and guidelines.
1. Temporary Changes to Teaching Modality – Deans of colleges and schools now have the authority to approve a limited number of requests from faculty and assistant instructors (AIs) for temporary changes to teaching modality. Information from deans will be sent about how these temporary requests should be routed, and deans will review these applications.
2. Seating Charts for Contact Tracing – Graduate student instructors are being asked to keep seating charts for all classes with more than 30 students, in an effort to help with contact tracing. Instructors also have the discretion to assign seats. We are preparing seating chart templates for all the General Purpose Classrooms (GPC) that host large classes. The GPC seating chart templates will be shared soon.
3. Resources for Course Content – For graduate instructors who choose to record course materials, support is available through LAITS. Their expertise and resources are exceptional and are available to advise and support instructors. Additionally, the Faculty Innovation Center (FIC) has extensive materials for graduate students teaching or supporting instruction.
4. Online Office Hours – Please check with your supervising faculty member or department should you have an interest in holding online office hours. Many classroom students greatly appreciated the flexibility of online office hours last year, because this increased student access to instructors and minimized individual trips to campus.
5. Instructor FAQs – The Office of the Provost has developed a set of instructor FAQs for the fall semester that may be helpful for graduate student instructors and teaching assistants.
Flexible Modality Arrangement for Graduate Student Employees
Teaching assistants (TAs), graduate research assistants (GRAs) and graduate assistants (GAs) with individuals residing in their households with certain immunocompromised medical conditions may be eligible for a temporary Alternative Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) for employees. This arrangement is not the same as requesting leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or requesting an accommodation for an employee’s own health condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). TAs, GRAs, GAs and other student employees should follow the staff process for requesting an Alternative Flexible Work Arrangement.
Assistant instructors (AIs) with individuals residing in their households with certain immunocompromised medical conditions may be eligible for a Flexible Teaching Modality Arrangement that is only available to faculty and assistant instructors. AIs should follow the faculty process. Please note that for certain steps of the process, AIs have their own forms.
These arrangements are only available for employees with individuals residing in their households who have been advised to limit their exposure to others due to the increased risk of infection with COVID-19, and who have one of the following medical conditions:
· Solid organ transplants or stem cell transplants;
· Currently in cycle for chemotherapy or cancers associated with immune deficiency (leukemias and lymphomas);
· Chronic inflammatory diseases treated with systemic corticosteroid therapy > 20mg prednisone daily, immunomodulator medications, and/or biologic agents;
· Primary immune deficiency disorders;
· Immune deficiencies due to HIV infection;
· Sickle cell disease; or
· Surgical asplenia
At this time, living with a child under the age of 12 who does not have one of the above-mentioned conditions will not qualify the AI for flexible teaching modality arrangement consideration.
Graduate student employees should submit their requests for accommodations for their own medical conditions through the ADA accommodation process.
The university recommends members of our community follow the CDC guidance and wear masks, though it’s not required, inside classrooms and indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status. This recommendation does not apply to a private office or single-occupant cubicle. The university has ample supply of ASTM level 2 and 3 masks and will provide them at no cost to all faculty members, assistant instructors, and teaching assistants who are teaching this semester, and to all staff members who will be working on campus.
UT strongly encourages all members of our community to get vaccinated if they are able to do so. The university is communicating vaccination information directly to students to encourage them, and AIs and TAs may also encourage their students to get vaccinated. The university is developing plans to hold vaccination clinics around campus as students begin to move back to Austin. More details on the university’s vaccination plans will follow soon.
Please note that the university is prohibited from inquiring about the vaccination status of any individual (student, staff or faculty). Therefore, AIs and TAs may not poll their class regarding their vaccination status, and they must treat all students equally, regardless of their vaccination status.
More information is available on the Protect Texas Together website, including frequently asked questions. Thank you for your help ensuring the health and safety of the university community during our return to campus.