Dean Robert Shibley on COVID-19-related transition to distance learning

Published March 12, 2020

“To the extent possible, we will approach this unprecedented situation as an opportunity to learn together and demonstrate our resilience as an academic community.”
Dean Robert Shibley

Dear Colleagues,

Yesterday, in response to the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that all SUNY institutions, including UB, will implement plans to maximize distance learning and reduce in-person instruction, effective March 23 and through the end of the spring 2020 semester. As you saw, President Satish Tripathi and Provost A. Scott Weber issued communications last night that outlined the university's response: all courses, where possible and regardless of size, should be offered in a distance-learning format.

The School of Architecture and Planning will act in full support of this directive. We take seriously our responsibility to minimize exposure to the coronavirus, both for the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students, and for the broader public, particularly vulnerable and at risk populations. Further, as architects and planners, we acknowledge that serious problems present opportunities for creative and collaborative problem-solving and systematic action. To the extent possible, we will approach this unprecedented situation as an opportunity to learn together and demonstrate our resilience as an academic community.

For the past several weeks our leadership team has been preparing for the possibility of COVID-19-related disruptions to university operations. We are taking directives from university leadership per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York State Department of Health, and the Erie County Department of Health. Our priority is to support the health and safety of our community, maintain continuity in our academic and research programs, and ensure students can complete their course requirements on schedule.

Given the unique needs of the School of Architecture and Planning community, we have organized a school-level Response Team composed of our academic and administrative leadership. We are currently developing a full plan and policy framework addressing the implications of this situation on our academic and research enterprise, as well as student services, facilities, and study abroad and summer programming. This plan will be issued in the coming days.

With spring break upon us, I would like to take this opportunity to communicate immediate guidelines related to the operation of our academic and research enterprise:

  • Per university policy, we will move all instruction, including studios (with a few exceptions), to an online format. Exceptions will be made only where the specific learning objectives of a course cannot be met through online instruction and are recommended to me by the appropriate department chair.  Faculty members are working with our Department leadership to revise syllabi and create a distance learning instruction plan, which will be shared with students no later than March 20.
  • While all campus operations, including campus living and dining, will continue to function, students may also elect to complete their semester from off-campus residences. Students leaving campus for spring recess should take with them any items necessary to continue their education remotely such as laptops, textbooks, and drawing and model-making tools. Students should also plan to vacate their studios by no later than March 23, unless otherwise notified by their faculty tomorrow.
  • As the university remains open, all professional obligations of faculty and staff remain unaffected, including those related to research, scholarship and service to students and faculty. Student access to advising and academic services will operate uninterrupted. Student employees, including those on TA/GA/RA appointments and post-doctoral scholars, are expected to carry out their employment obligations and should consult their supervisors for guidance regarding any modifications to regular duties.
  • The School of Architecture and Planning seeks to minimize density and reinforce social distancing. As such, we will maintain limited access throughout the spring 2020 semester to fabrication and shop facilities, as well as computing labs. Details on a system for accessing facilities are forthcoming.
  • The Information Technology team is working to clarify how we will be able to support those students with limited access to the internet or home-based computing in a manner consistent with University computing policies.  Our Response Team is also devising a support plan to address training and capacity-building in online instruction and learning for all.
  • Online and remote solutions to other critical elements of our academic experience, including critiques, peer learning, and final reviews, are also being developed by our Response Team in coordination with faculty. Departmental leadership will share details in the coming days.
  • We would also like to reinforce that all university-funded, non-essential travel is prohibited. This prohibition includes all non-essential incoming travel of guests to UB where such guests are intended to engage with audiences greater than 50. There is some room for judgment here on what constitutes non-essential and there may also be some latitude on audience size.  Exceptions can be made in consultation with our Department chairs, who will make recommendations to me.
  • Due to travel restrictions and risks associated with large gatherings, the school is canceling all of its remaining public programs and events to mitigate the potential of exposure. This includes our lecture series, student events such as Atelier, and the 50th Anniversary Celebration. Where possible, events will be rescheduled for the fall 2020 semester.

As a fluid and rapidly evolving situation, we seek to create an open and transparent environment for addressing questions and concerns from faculty, staff, and students. Please direct all questions to Joelle Haseley (jes46@buffalo.edu), who will work with our Response Team to provide answers to your inquiries through a regularly updated Frequently Asked Questions document for the entire school community which will ultimately reside on our school web site.

Finally, we recognize that the loss of social connections is a significant challenge to the learning experience, particularly so in the studio environment. Social distancing and density reduction make it difficult to collaborate and to form the trust that maintains our sense of community. Again, as professionals trying to make a better world, this is what we do. While we test the limits of technology and communication, I am confident in our resilience and adaptability.  We can work through this - and even grow given these circumstances.  We are, after all, a collegial, collaborative, respectful, and creative bunch.

Thank you for your patience and support through this process. As you await further word from the School, please continue to visit https://www.buffalo.edu/coronavirus for updates and important information from UB leadership related to this evolving situation.

With best regards,

Bob Shibley