April 10
Update from Dean Canning to Faculty, Staff and Graduate Students

Dear Faculty, Staff and Graduate Students in the Humanities:

Keeping up with constantly swirling change is one of the challenges we all face during this ongoing crisis. For that reason, I have tried to avoid unleashing a new email message every day lest everyone just tune out. This message thus addresses several important issues that have been under discussion in the frequent conferrals of the deans with the leadership of the university. Our office is arranging town hall meetings with faculty and staff in our units and we have also held two town halls thus far with the graduate students in Humanities. Alex Byrd holds weekly meetings with Humanities undergraduates on Zoom as well. We are looking forward to talking to you in these town hall settings about what we are learning from our students and about the issues outlined in this memo.

I. Hiring/Salaries/Stipends:
Salary freeze: While administrators and readers of the Thresher are already aware of this, Rice is enacting a salary freeze for all staff and faculty for fiscal year 2021, except those faculty whose promotions are currently in process. As President Leebron explained, all of the Rice revenue sources are challenged, not just that of the endowment distribution. There is also uncertainty regarding the status of net tuition, especially from international students.

Budget cut: we have been asked to identify budget cuts of 1% to our A1-funded budgets by June 1. The Dean’s office will be in touch with the units regarding these cuts but we will need some participation of your units. Further budget reduction of 5% for FY 22 may occur and will be announced by August 1.

Faculty research accounts: As you know, last year we raised the base sum for all faculty from $2.5k to $3k and we will maintain that funding level for the coming year. A proposed change in our practice is to top up all of your research accounts to the sum we have promised each of you rather than depositing the annual sum. In the face of reduced travel and conference attendance this spring, summer and fall (as we anticipate), we expect that some research accounts will retain substantial balances at the start of this fiscal year. This means that if you receive $3k and have a balance of $2.5k, we will top you up to $3k on July 1. However, when the need arises for your remaining research funds later in fall or spring, we will transfer the promised sum at your request (a simple email request alerting us that your account balance needs replenishing to the promised amount).

Graduate student stipends will not be frozen; they will increase by 2% in FY 21.

Graduate student research funds: Graduate student research funding will remain unchanged: we have recently become aware of grad student need for higher-speed internet to support their own course participation, teaching and access to research materials. We are allowed to cover the cost difference between the previous internet subscription and the upgraded higher-speed connection, based on bills/receipts. If graduate students require access to research materials that cause them to incur costs, we may be able to reimburse costs of some research materials on a case-by-case basis, particularly because the costs for travel and conference participation will be so diminished.  We advise inquiring of our office first prior to purchase rather than presuming that it will be possible for us to provide reimbursement.

Staff hiring freeze, effective immediately for all new hires, both permanent and temporary and full time and part time. Exceptions will be allowed based on a justification submitted by the dean, vice president, vice provost or director. Please note that postdoctoral fellows are considered staff.  In the case of staff (including post-docs) funded by research awards, hires need to be consistent with sponsor rules on allowable work during this period of remote work.

Faculty recruitments that have already reached the offer stage can continue, assuming they are critical positions and stellar candidates. Faculty recruitment plans for appointments as of July 1, 2021, will be limited to the most critical open lines.

II. Students/Graduate Students 
We will receive a memo in the course of the next day or two from Pres. Leebron, Interim Provost and Dean Seiichi Matsuda and Bridget Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates, requesting that we exercise care, concern, engagement, flexibility and understanding in our work with our students this semester. Undergraduates continue to report instances in which faculty are restricting teaching to email contact and other cases in which faculty have opted to intensify the work load for their students by shifting genres of assignments (for example, adding a lengthy written assignment that was not originally part of the class requirement). We ask you to recognize that our students need our flexibility and generosity at this time.

As you undoubtedly know, the Faculty Senate approved a P/F option for all undergraduate courses. The text of the Faculty Senate resolution is as follows:

Amended and Passed Motion:
Undergraduate students in full semester courses or second half semester courses in Spring 2020 which are classified as letter grade courses may request to take any or all of these courses Pass/Fail.  Any courses designated Pass/Fail as a result of this motion will still be eligible to have the grades uncovered by the normal deadline for converting Pass/Fail grades to the letter grade earned.  Courses designated Pass/Fail in the Spring 2020 semester will not count against the normal allocation of Pass/Fail courses allotted to undergraduate students.  Additionally, an adjustment and provision will be made within the university’s degree audit system (Degree Works) to allow Spring 2020 courses with a grade of “P” to be eligible towards an undergraduate student’s major, minor or certificate’s course requirements.  The deadline for undergraduates to declare an eligible course Pass/Fail is the last day of classes. All courses are eligible to be dropped and the deadline is extended to the last day of classes for the Spring 2020 semester. For graduate students, the deadline to drop courses is extended to the last day of classes for the Spring 2020 semester.

See this link to the policy on the Registrar’s webpage.

The HGSA, which represents Humanities graduate students, has conducted a survey about the graduate student experience of the COVID-19 transition and crisis, which they released today. I attach the survey here. Its collective testimony is sobering and might prompt us to think about the particular ways in which we can support our graduate students in these exceptionally challenging times. Many of them have family members they are now caring for; some have partners who have lost jobs; those with children are trying to research, write, complete courses and/or teach while home-schooling or caring for small children. The grad students also recognize the dire effects of this crisis on their current and future job and post-doctoral prospects.

Thank you for all for your creativity, good humor, and engagement in these difficult times. A second memo will be forthcoming later today to the faculty regarding summer teaching. I would ask that you all read it, as the entire summer teaching program is changing in order to meet the transformed circumstances of this summer. Pres. Leebron has emphasized the importance of the Humanities at this critical moment and hopes that we will contribute to the launch of a new summer school program, which will be particularly appealing to students whose internships, study abroad courses and summer jobs have been canceled. More to follow!

Kathleen Canning
Dean, School of Humanities
Andrew W. Mellon Professor of History
Rice University
(713) 348-4810