January 14, 2022
Provost Richard M. Locke
Tags Undergraduates Grad and Medical Students Faculty and Staff

To the Brown Community: Approach to academic instruction this spring


Members of the Brown Community,

I hope that all is well with you and your loved ones. Following the announcement earlier this week regarding health and safety guidelines for a regular, in-person start to the Spring 2022 semester, I am writing to provide information on Brown’s approach to instruction for campus-based undergraduate and graduate courses that begin on Wednesday, Jan. 26. The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff remains our top priority, and our approach to academic instruction is based on current health guidelines and expert guidance from public health and medical professionals.

Please read this message closely for guidance on the following topics affecting teaching and instruction for undergraduate and graduate courses:

  • The importance of holding classes in the modes listed in Courses@Brown (as listed for in-person, fully online or hybrid)
  • Guidance for students and instructors related to student absences
  • Guidance for instructors to share plans with students concerning the possibility of instructor absences for personal and family situations
  • Managing shopping period classroom density
  • Requirements for high-quality masks and social distancing
  • Departmental events and gatherings

As we shared earlier this week, we continue to believe that in-person instruction is safe given the effectiveness of high vaccination rates and policies requiring high-quality masks in academic and administrative buildings. The experiences of Brown and other universities this academic year and in recent weeks suggest that the risk of transmission in classroom settings is low.

Maintaining Instructional Modality Aligned with Courses@Brown
All instructors, including teaching assistants, are expected to hold classes in the modes that were originally listed in Courses@Brown — meaning that classes that were previously planned for online or hybrid instruction for pedagogical reasons will proceed in those modalities, and all other classes will be taught in-person from the start of the semester, including shopping period.

Brown requires that courses be offered in the approved and advertised modality both for the benefit of students and to ensure the University remains in compliance with our accreditation and federal reporting obligations.

Instructors whose situations may have changed in a way that affects their ability to teach a class in the currently planned modality may email provost@brown.edu. Instructors who have a new medical condition that they believe warrants an exception should contact Brown’s external accessibility partner, Broadspire. Information about the process is available in our previous communication about the Process for University Residency Requirement Exception.

Additionally, instructors may use their discretion to determine whether to host in-person activities outside of their scheduled course sections. For example, office hours may be held in-person or remotely until further notice. Instructors may send questions on other in-person activities to provost@brown.edu.

Guidance for Student Absences
Instructors and students should plan for the possibility that students may be absent from class for a variety of health and personal reasons, especially during shopping period when we will likely see a high number of students test positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Students should proactively contact their instructors if they are unable to attend class, and instructors should be flexible and support students with excused absences as they normally would. However, instructors should not ask students about underlying health or personal circumstances. Deans in both the College and Student Support Services may provide deans' notes on behalf of undergraduate students with specific personal or health circumstances that hinder their ability to complete academic work. Graduate students can seek additional support from the associate deans in the Graduate School. Please note that instructors may also provide support for student absences without deans’ notes.

Instructors are not expected to teach additional hybrid or online sections to accommodate individual student absences, but we ask that they develop plans for student absences and communicate those plans to students at the beginning of the semester. These may involve the following options:

  • Recording class sessions using Lecture Capture and asking absent students to watch these recordings using the Canvas Media Library (instructors teaching in classrooms without installed Lecture Capture equipment can record audio and video using Personal Capture);
  • Offering a live Zoom during class;
  • Posting class notes (e.g., lecture notes from instructors or collaboratively generated on Google Docs by students) and/or discussion materials to Canvas and ensuring that assignments can be submitted via Canvas. Guidance on Asynchronous Strategies for Inclusive Teaching is available.

Instructors are encouraged to contact Sheridan_Center@brown.edu for support with remote-accessible approaches.

Instructor Absences for Personal and Family Situations
We recognize that instructors may have to be absent in order to deal with personal or family situations over the course of the semester, including if they or their dependents test positive for COVID-19. We are asking instructors to exercise their best judgment and follow the advice of their health care provider, even if that means staying home for a period of time. Additional guidance is provided on the Healthy Brown website.

Instructors are expected to develop plans for possible absence and share their plans with students at the beginning of the semester. These may involve the following options:

  • Identifying a substitute instructor (note that an instructor’s request for support from teaching assistants should remain within the guidelines for their roles);
  • Temporarily transitioning class sessions to be remote (instructors may review the guidelines for Remote-Accessible Teaching);
  • Developing course materials and online activities in advance that allow students to progress in their absence (see the guidelines for creating course videos and asynchronous teaching strategies); and
  • Potentially rescheduling a class to a later date in urgent situations where the above options are not possible.

Cooperation in Managing Shopping Period Classroom Density
As is usually the case every semester, more students will attend classes during shopping period than will be enrolled, resulting in higher density in some classrooms. Instructors and students must work together to manage density in classrooms. Instructors should explain their attendance policy in their syllabus, post their syllabus on Courses@Brown (via coursetools.brown.edu), and publish Canvas websites in advance of the first class so students know how they will manage attendance before the first day of class.

Students should adhere to requests from instructors who may manage the density in classrooms by:

  • Asking students not yet registered for the course to leave the classroom if the density in the classroom exceeds the designated capacity;      
  • Telling students that seats will be reserved for those who register for the course first and that remaining seats may be taken by waitlisted and/or other students to the extent possible; or
  • Recording their first lecture(s) if feasible and posting on Canvas.

Mask Requirements and Social Distancing
As noted in the University’s prior announcement, all members of the community should wear high-quality masks while on campus (KN95, KF94, N95 or disposable/surgical masks). Cloth masks generally do not provide adequate protection and are acceptable only if used over a disposable mask to improve the fit. Starting on Monday, Jan. 17, students and employees can pick up KN95 masks at the Alumnae Hall and One Davol Test Kit Pickup Sites. Find up-to-date information on Brown’s mask requirement on the Healthy Brown website.

As was the case for the Fall 2021 semester, fully vaccinated instructors who have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster may choose to remove their masks when they are speaking during the course of instruction, though they are not required to do so. Students must wear high-quality, well-fitting masks at all times when indoors on campus until further notice. Students may not remove their masks in the classroom.

Instructors of music courses who previously received permission from the Office of the Provost for their students to wear well-fitting specialty masks may continue to allow the use of these masks this semester. Instructors can send questions on mask requirements to provost@brown.edu. Please note that the University will not approve any exceptions to the indoor mask requirement until Wednesday, Feb. 9, at the earliest.

Social distancing remains important for unvaccinated students or employees, who must continue to maintain a 6-foot distance from others when they are indoors. These individuals must either have approved exemptions or be in the process of getting vaccinated; they are responsible for abiding by all applicable requirements, including masking and social distancing. Faculty should not ask about the vaccination status of anyone in their classes. Vaccinated individuals do not need to practice social distancing indoors.

Events and Gatherings for Academic and Administrative Units
Given Brown’s requirements for vaccination and mask wearing, departments and offices are allowed to host gatherings and events indoors but should use their best judgment on the size and location of gatherings. Departments are advised to avoid indoor events in which attendees will need to be unmasked for extended periods of time, including group meals, through Wednesday, Feb. 9, at the earliest. For example, offices and departments planning recruitment events should avoid planning group meals with the candidates. At this time, we are planning no changes to indoor dining at dining facilities across campus, given the assured strong vaccination levels of Brown users of those facilities, as well as proper air handling and other safeguards.

We will continue to monitor the public health situation and communicate any further changes in policy or expectations. We continue to maintain a set of FAQs on the Provost’s Office website to be responsive to questions about course instruction and department operations.

I want to conclude by expressing my sincere gratitude to our entire community. I appreciate the dedication, flexibility and understanding that you all have shown to ensure we continue to fulfill our mission as a teaching, learning and research community while also taking measures to protect the health of all who live, work and study at Brown.

Thank you for your continued efforts and commitment.


Richard M. Locke