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Addressing equity issues for faculty during COVID-19

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

September 24, 2020

Auraria campus with MSU Denver banner.

Faculty talk. We all have colleagues across the nation and around the world, and we are comparing notes as we move through the COVID-19 crisis and figure out our new normal in a drastically changed academy. A lot of these conversations center on equity. How are institutions providing support and developing policy that does not simply treat everyone equally but rather meets the individual needs of faculty members? Specifically, how is our institution comparing with those of our colleagues in addressing equity for faculty during the pandemic?

Equity has always been an issue. Institutions of higher ed constantly strive to address equity, writ large, in various ways; now, the pandemic has further diversified approaches to the promotion of equity for faculty. With institutions in crisis and survival mode, it may feel like there is more focus on enrollment, retention and student support and less on issues of faculty equity. Further complicating discussions about equity on campus is the current social climate around racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement. The intersection between national politics and individual circumstance or lived experience creates a unique set of equity issues for every faculty member.

With this in mind, what are some basic topics that should drive conversations about addressing equity for faculty during the pandemic? How can faculty members join in the conversation and participate in the shared governance that will shape an equitable future in the academy?

Take a SIP of this: addressing equity issues for faculty during COVID-19

This week’s SIP is a bit different. Normally, the SIP offers a compilation of tips and suggestions that can improve teaching and learning. The list below, however, represents a smattering of pertinent topics that faculty members must consider as we move into a new year of shared governance and political action on campus. How will we each contribute to the discussions, policy formation and action items that will ensure the consideration of equity as we navigate a new normal? And which faculty members even have an avenue to join these discussions?

  • Women in academia have been disproportionately affected by child care, etc., during the pandemic. What measures can we put into place that ensure gender equity on our campus?
  • Many faculty members face an intersection of identities and life circumstances that may put them disproportionately at risk during COVID-19. What steps should be taken to honor this intersectionality in policy and practice?
  • Much consideration of RTP and PTR clocks, deadlines, standards, etc., has already occurred. How can we further institutionalize reconsidered procedures to accommodate the ramifications of the pandemic that will impact promotion and tenure for years to come? For example, faculty members of color tend to have inaccurate student evaluations that may be lower than those of their white peers. Similarly, faculty members who teach online often see student evaluations that are lower than their own norm. So a BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) person who has had to pivot to online teaching during the pandemic will experience double jeopardy. What steps will be taken to contextualize and mitigate RTP and PTR practices to promote equity?
  • Similarly, how will we rewrite standards for assessing faculty research and scholarly production during a time of limited availability of materials, library closures, canceled conferences, etc.?
  • How will service be addressed? How do we make advising equitable during COVID? Students need more during the pandemic, and increased advising time may impact faculty’s ability to do other service projects. How will the “invisible labor” of accommodating, adjusting for and supporting our students – or the skills acquired while many of us learn to teach online for the first time – during the pandemic be recognized and valued?
  • Faculty members are switching to online instruction and may have never done it before. What instructional-support measures and revamped evaluation measures may be put into place to ensure that faculty are treated fairly around online instruction during annual review, PTR, RTP, etc.? How are faculty members at different career stages being supported during the transition to online – for example, for faculty members who are retiring in the next year or two, are considerations being made to encourage productivity and strong learning outcomes without requiring a total overhaul of personal methodology?
  • How will the University address differences in the economic status of faculty members? For example, some faculty members may not be able to afford internet in their homes but are being asked to teach remotely. What steps can be taken to ensure access to equitable work environments for faculty members? Are Category II and affiliate faculty needs in these areas being considered equitably as well, or are the conversations around tenured or tenure-track faculty preventing that consideration?
  • In that same vein, faculty members may incur expenses to teach online or remotely that financially disadvantage them (e.g., Zoom membership, purchase of whiteboards or other instructional materials, etc.). Will cost-covering measures be implemented to ensure equitable financial impact on all?
  • Universities must call on leaders (provosts, etc.), experts on equity such as the Gender Institute for Teaching and Advocacy and similarly focused departments and centers, and Faculty Senates to put measures into place that institutionalize equity in practice during the pandemic (and after).
  • Not all faculty will advocate a return to campus – each may have their own individual reason why. Faculty members must not be shamed for their choice. How can we all support the diverse opinions of our colleagues and ensure that official University positions on the election of remote instruction are realized at the departmental level so that all can have a safe return to campus?
  • How do we figure in issues of furlough during COVID and make it fair for all? This could include long-term effects on salary reduction, retirement contribution, etc.
  • Related: How will decisions be made about cutting positions or programs during the lean budget years that are sure to follow this crisis? For example, there have been lots of recent layoffs in higher ed for adjuncts, affiliates and Category II faculty, all of which have higher numbers of BIPOC and women-identified faculty. When budgets rebound and positions are refilled, how will hiring practices help restore departmental and institutional equity?
  • Pay equity is an issue as well, not only during COVID-19 but when departments begin to hire again. See Opinion article – how will departments make decisions around hiring to sustain projects of equity and not disrupt or invert salary progression for current faculty members?

This great disruption is also a time of great potential to institutionalize measures of equity that may have been lacking in the structure of the University since time immemorial. Let your voice be heard in the discussions around how this future will look!

Still thirsty? Take a SIP of addressing equity issues for faculty during COVID-19

Opinion: In the wake of COVID-19, academia needs new solutions to ensure gender equity.

Jessica L. Malisch, Breanna N. Harris, Shanen M. Sherrer, Kristy A. Lewis, Stephanie L. Shepherd, Pumtiwitt C. McCarthy, Jessica L. Spott, Elizabeth P. Karam, Naima Moustaid-Moussa, Jessica McCrory Calarco, Latha Ramalingam, Amelia E. Talley, Jaclyn E. Cañas-Carrell, Karin Ardon-Dryer, Dana A. Weiser, Ximena E. Bernal and Jennifer Deitloff

PNAS July 7, 2020 117 (27) 15378-15381; first published June 17, 2020

Gonzales, Leslie D. and Griffin, Kimberly A. Supporting Faculty During and After COVID-19: Don’t let go of equity. ASPIRE – The National Alliance for Inclusive and Diverse STEM Faculty.

Pettit, Emma. “Will COVID-19 Revive Faculty Power?” Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 26, 2020.

Visit the Well at for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom.

Topics: Academics, Best practices, SIP, Strong Instructional Practice

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