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Letter from UA President Manuel Palomar

 

Manuel_Palomar

 

Alicante, 28 April 2020

 

Dear colleagues and students,

I hope you and your families are well. Through this letter, I want to send you a message about the situation we are facing during these difficult times. With no doubt, and despite this crisis, we will come out reinforcing our firm commitment towards higher education as the best instrument for building well-being and for advancing as individuals and as a society.

The University of Alicante has a reason to be proud of itself. In adverse conditions, it has managed to continue its essential tasks without serious dysfunctions and is preparing to face the immediate future by implementing additional security measures. We are also preparing a new bimodal university to operate both online and in the classroom. This will require a progressive adaptation of teachers and students and the strengthening of technological tools to make this combined teaching work.. 

This exceptional situation we are going through has forced us to make quick decisions in a climate of isolation, with no time to convene the ordinary control bodies and to fluently and calmly  debate the measures to be taken. 

Since 13 March, we decided to implement provisional online teaching for all the courses. This decision was approved during the first videoconference held by the University of Alicante Governing Council on 30 March. There, I highlighted the prevalence of safety and health in the process and the rapid adaptation achieved to carry out the online teaching continuation plan in record time. 

In accordance with the state of emergency, we established the University of Alicante "essential services" and applied the Regulations for Curricular Adjustment to all our students, both for the procedures to implement online teaching and the evaluation systems adapted to the new reality by means of the appropriate adjustments and modifications. 

In this same sense, the presidents of the Valencian public universities, together with the Regional Minister for Innovation, Universities, Science and Digital Society agreed the following in an online meeting held on 3 April: to maintain all teaching activity online for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year; to develop the procedures for adapting online assessment methods; and to express our willingness to work together to adopt the best outcomes. The goal is to achieve the best possible results for the 2019-2020 academic year by guaranteeing teaching quality and student support.

In order to adopt the appropriate measures to enforce this decision, a committee to adjust curricular content, ad-hoc continuous assessment and June examination sessions was created. The new committee is responsible for drawing up a document with the general guidelines to establish the mechanisms to assess the student learning outcomes, internships and their undergraduate and master’s final projects. The instruments and assessment criteria for each subject will be specified and approved by the relevant authorities, by the faculties and the Polytechnic School, taking the particular context of each subject and degree programme into consideration.

 

With regard to the implementation of the online teaching activity, a UA decision established the organisation and of virtual classrooms for each teacher and their students. 

 

The situation, evolution and prospects of COVID-19 do not allow us to be sure that June exams can be carried out in the classroom, for obvious reasons of health and safety. In order to avoid uncertainty in the way that exams would be taken, teaching activity and exams will be held online until the end of the academic year, thus guaranteeing the completion of the 2019-2020 academic year. 

I am aware of the implementation of measures at maximum speed, and I am also aware of the problems affecting many students: uncertainty in the face of new teaching and assessment methods, lack or insufficient technological tools and suitable Internet connection, fear of failing exams, poor performance or inconvenient training, psychological consequences, housing unsuitable for concentration required for study, perhaps due to the illness itself, either their own or that of people living with them, inadequate or insufficient response in some subjects. Fear and silent depression.

And those affecting all teachers, given the extra effort derived from new teaching methods, redesign of goals and learning outcomes and the deployment of technologies that make them possible. This is particularly true for those who, having adapted to the regular classroom-based model, have suddenly found themselves facing a sudden transition in which they have not only had to draw up new guidelines to teach their subjects, but also to use technologies for which they were not sufficiently prepared. 

They have also had to deal with the problems faced by those university services that have had to adapt their work via their websites. Especially the university staff members who develop essential services, such as the IT members, with their exemplary performance and dedication and those working at the Medical Service, in charge of arranging precautionary measures and making the health and safety of workers and students a priority. 

To all of them, and to the rest of the workers who carry out useful and essential functions in the university (security, maintenance, cleaning, gardening, ...), I would like to thank their commitment, their implication to give continuity to the tasks that they were entrusted: teaching, research, the commitment to solidarity and being accountable to society. Also, I apologise if they have felt overwhelmed by the haste in making the adjustments demanded. However, we must understand our reality and the reasons why we have made decisions to face it trying to fit good and much-needed common conditions. 

We will be judged by the results. To this end, I would like to state that students are our priority, both their health and safety, but also their education. Thus, we will take the necessary steps to ensure that they are not affected or harmed by events for which they have not been responsible, however we trust their morale, effort and merit. 

The University of Alicante research groups have not only continued with their tasks under difficult conditions, but have also become involved in the fight against COVID-19, with significant contributions in all branches of knowledge and donations of all kinds of material, as a sign of our institution's commitment to society.

A commitment that has been reinforced with the implementation of a social emergency volunteer programme, an initiative promoted by the UA shortly after the state of emergency was declared, in response to the crisis and which involves the entire university community as a strategic group due to the expertise of their members. Also, other members of the university community will contribute accompanying and assisting people at risk or in a situation of vulnerability and social exclusion. 

I am convinced that we will succeed in adapting to changes. In fact, in many other professions we were already working in a very differently as we did a few years ago, so this crisis is only speeding up a transition that has already begun. However, our will to know and our vocation to public service, the central ingredients of our profession has not changed. Let us hope that they will never, ever change. For the good of all of us.

Yours sincerely, 

Manuel Palomar

UA President

 

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