Monday, August 16, 2021
At UT Law, our orientation period for the new academic year began on Friday. I am back in the classroom today teaching a two-session introductory period course on case briefing and legal analysis. Regular classes begin on Wednesday.
The struggle I had in creating my syllabi this year was real. Under current prescriptions and proscriptions, we are teaching in person, with no physical distancing, masked. But masks are not required throughout the building. Moreover, while vaccination is encouraged, it is not required for faculty, staff, or students, and we are prohibited from asking faculty and staff colleagues and students about vaccination status. There have been more student accommodation requests than usual in my large-section course. In general, COVID-19, the political divide, and social (especially racial) unrest--which overlap to create a veritable triple pandemic--are seemingly collectively conspiring against us in so many ways, including in the educational setting. I am feeling the weight of it all.
But undaunted, I move forward in my law teaching! I have addressed some key concerns in my syllabi this semester. I include two sections from my syllabi below that may be of interest. Feel free to dismiss or use these as you will. Most of the substance of the "COVID-19;community heatlh" piece is from language provided to campus faculty by our Provost's office, through our Teaching & Learning Innovation group (part of our Division of Faculty Affairs). The rest comes from CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance.
COVID-19; community health: The campus administration has advised us that, with the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, students, faculty, and staff will be required to wear masks in classrooms, labs, and for indoor academic events required for students such as orientation. This requirement will remain in place until conditions improve and the university communicates new instructions.
The university strongly recommends that all members of the campus community be vaccinated for their own protection, to prevent disruption to the semester, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Vaccination information and appointment signups are available at tiny.utk.edu/vaccine. The Student Health Center medical staff is available to students to answer questions or discuss concerns about vaccines, and the center provides vaccines free of charge for anyone 18 years or older who would like one.
If you think you are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19, you should contact the Student Health Center or your preferred health care provider. You can also contact the university’s COVID-19 support team for guidance by filling out the COVID-19 self-isolation form at covidform.utk.edu.
You must not attend class if you have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in the isolation period, if you have COVID-19 symptoms and have not been cleared by a medical provider, or if you are an unvaccinated close contact in the quarantine period.
If you need to miss class for illness, please contact me by telephone at 865-974-3813 or by electronic mail at email@example.com.
Over the course of the semester, you can find more information and updates at utk.edu/coronavirus.
We also are advised that following other simple practices also promotes good health in and outside the classroom. These include:
- maintaining physical distance from others when possible;
- avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces;
- frequent and thorough hand-washing;
- covering coughs and sneezes;
- cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces; and
- monitoring your personal health daily.
More information on observing solid general health practices in the current environment is available here.
I know this is not where we all wanted to be right now in terms of public health risks in our activities together. It remains a lot for us to deal with mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. We remain committed to the safety and health of everyone in our community—a professional education community within a larger university campus. As service professionals, we are counseled in the Preamble to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct to “demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it.” And those of you who consider yourselves to be VFLs (Vols for Life) likely know that the Volunteer Creed—the heart of our campus values—similarly reminds us that we bear the torch in order to give light to others. As aspiring legal professionals and Tennessee Volunteers (a/k/a Law Vols), we therefore commit to caring for one another and for the members of the communities in which we live, work, and learn. It is important that we demonstrate professionalism and the Volunteer spirit by following health requirements and guidance as the same becomes available to us.
Civil, inclusive, professional environment: Our classroom and course website are professional education and work settings within our overall College of Law community. As such, they are places for open, frank, and sometimes difficult conversations and debates. Respect, inclusion, reflection, and tolerance are values inherent to this environment. Each class member is responsible for upholding these values in communications and other conduct. I note also in this regard the campus principles of civility and community, which can be found at http://civility.utk.edu. (I make a cameo appearance in the video on the principles that is found here.) These principles are at the core of what we do.
Please help me in creating a welcoming environment for our class community. If you use a name or pronouns other than what is represented in the course roll or might expect, please email me with your preferred name or pronouns. Also, please offer me help in pronouncing your name correctly—either in advance or through critical feedback if I err.
There obviously is a lot of customization in this language. But I hope that there are a few nuggets in these paragraphs that are useful to some of you. For the sake of completeness, I should note that I am using this text in a master course syllabus and have a separate reading syllabus for each course that only includes the assignments and related instructions.
I wish all well as we begin another semester and year.