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OU Faculty Senate seeks funding for newly passed COVID-19-related proposals; speakers present plans for spring

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An OU flag in front of the Bizzell Memorial Library on July 8, 2020.

In a Monday afternoon OU Faculty Senate meeting, members passed the COVID-19 Disrupted Sabbaticals proposal and the Additional Protections for Faculty from COVID-19 Related Health Costs and Disability proposal and discussed organizational responsibilities. 

The OU Faculty Senate voted to pass the COVID-19 Disrupted Sabbaticals proposal as well as the Additional Protections for Faculty from COVID-19 Related Health Costs and Disability proposal. Both proposals passed with no objects and minor amendments regarding grammar and wording. 

According to the meeting agenda, faculty on sabbatical through spring 2020 experienced “several unique disruptions” upon completion of their sabbatical application. Current policy states eligible faculty must serve six years before applying for sabbatical leave. 

“The Faculty Senate is requesting that the university allows for waivers from the current policy for those who were on a year-long 2019–20 or spring 2020 sabbatical during the 2019–20 academic year,” the proposal reads. “Waivers could include being eligible for submitting a sabbatical application after three years, and course (and) service releases over a period of time that is negotiated between the faculty and their unit chair or committee rather than a dedicated sabbatical period.” 

The Additional Protections for Faculty from COVID-19 Related Health Costs and Disability proposal requests the university create a “special fund" to assist faculty and staff with out-of-pocket costs that result from COVID-19 infection, according to the agenda. The proposal cites recent publications stating COVID-19 causes “prolonged illness lasting several months.” 

“Doctors are also realizing that some patients go on to develop kidney damage, neurological problems, cognitive decline, permanent lung scarring and/or other complications that require extensive rehabilitation,” the proposal reads. “The newness of the disease means that these different clinical profiles are still not well understood.”

The proposal also requests the university to either “negotiate with an insurance provider to offer additional disability insurance with an open enrollment period or set aside additional funds that could be used to bolster the payout of existing short- and long-term disability policies” due to the long-term disability COVID-19 may cause. 

“In addition to catastrophic out of pocket costs, COVID-19 infection may result in long-term disability,” the proposal reads. “The current disability insurance offered by OU includes short-term disability: 60% of salary, with coverage up to 26 weeks — and long-term disability: 3 plans with variable coverage, up to two-thirds of salary, uncertain duration.” 

Lastly, the proposal requests the university to “review projections for current COVID-19 projected health care costs and consider those against the current stop-loss coverage provisions.” 

According to the proposal, self-insured health care plans usually feature “stop-gap coverage for employees whose costs exceed $50,000–$100,000.” 

In a closing statement within the proposal, the Faculty Senate said they appreciate OU’s current COVID-19 precautions but “encourage” the university to fund the proposed initiatives. 

“Faculty who return to in-person teaching should not have to face devastating out-of-pocket medical costs or lasting disability for complying with the University’s reopening plans,” the proposal reads. 

Aside from the proposals, Center for Faculty Excellence Director Megan Elwood Madden said the CFE is operating virtually and plans to continue virtual operation next semester. Madden read the CFE mission: 

“The Center for Faculty Excellence strives to support faculty successes and well-being at all stages of faculty growth and development,” Madden read. “The CFE provides support and skill development to help faculty enhance teaching, extend research and creative activities, engage in their communities and foster leadership in an environment that encourages a culture of collegial support, inclusiveness and excellence.”  

Following the mission statement, Madden introduced the CFE core team including Senior Writing Fellow Michele Eodice, Managing Director Karen Horne, Manager of Operations Mauve Kay, Associate Director for Community Engagement Joy Pendley, Associate Director for Teaching Hong Lin, Director of Writing Enriched Curriculum Robert Scafe, and Associate Director for Research Clara Smith.  

Madden said CFE will have its first round of faculty fellows in 2021, which will include Andrea Benjamin, Shane Brady, Aparna Nair and Julie Ann Ward. 

After introducing CFE team members and fellows, Madden listed CFE action plans for spring 2021. These include sharing a survey with faculty members regarding topics of interest and modes of presentation, planning professional development series and curricula, planning networking and writing groups, engaging students online and in person, teaching tools, proposal development, professional writing, developing infrastructure to support faculty as they engage with community partners and creating tools to integrate faculty development activities across campus. 

Madden mentioned examples of teaching tools such as Hypothesis, Gradescope and Jamboard. According to Madden, workshops on how to use these tools will be provided. 

“As you’re looking at different professional development activities, hopefully we’ll be able to signal what you should expect to get from those professional development activities and how we’re going to spend the time that we know that you are sharing with us out of your very busy schedules,” Madden said. 

Asked to speak about his new role as associate vice president for budget and financial planning, Stewart Berkinshaw said financial services, risk management, research financial services, the budget office and the shared business service center will report to him. 

Berkinshaw's vision for his role includes ensuring effective leadership to support faculty and students on campus.

“We don’t want to be thought of as red tape,” Berkinshaw said. “I want to make sure we’re doing things as efficiently as possible, which means we may need to be doing things differently than we’ve done in the past.”

Berkinshaw said another component of his vision is training and developing the Budget and Finance staff. When hiring somebody, Berkinshaw said, they must have the correct qualifications in order to “get up to speed.”

A third component is looking at staffing levels across the departments regarding efficiency, workload and usage of information technology tools, according to Berkinshaw. 

“We need to be effective in what we do,” Berkinshaw said. “We can’t be starving ourselves on one side and expect to be effective with faculty on campus.” 

Berkinshaw said the final piece of his vision includes “better coordination” on campus with other departments. 

“I think sometimes decisions are made at the top, and we’re not really understanding the full A-to-Z process in place,” Berkinshaw said. “We make a decision that benefits the folks … but do not understand what’s happening from the beginning to the end and why these processes are made.”

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