Patience During COVID-19: An Open Letter to College Students

Dear Current or Prospective Student,

At this point, it is safe to assume that you know the impact of COVID-19 on your academic life: if you lived on campus, you were very likely asked to move out during/after spring break; classes have been moved to an online format; graduations, hooding ceremonies, and other end of semester award events have been cancelled or put online; and zoom meetings with your faculty, classmates, advisors, etc. are the “new normal.”

You may notice that even with staff and faculty working online remotely, communications are not as timely as you would hope.

As a staff member, I ask on behalf of all faculty and staff to please be patient with us. We, like everyone else, are doing our best during these unprecedented times. Your faculty and advisors are trying to think of new, innovate ways to keep you engaged, happy, and successful in your education, while also being afraid of losing our jobs, like everyone else. (This maybe is not a concern for tenured faculty, but I assure you that it is a concern for your part-time instructors and all staff.)

Please know we are all scrambling, having emergency meetings, and stressing about our own lives as well as yours. Know that we are here for you and we will respond as soon as we can to all of your requests and concerns. You are our first priority and the reason we have a job.

Most of us have a 24 hour policy – that is, we try to respond to inquiries within 24 hours. That said, we get swamped and things occasionally get lost in our inbox, sent to spam, etc.

So, you may be wondering: what can I do to encourage a reply if my [insert here] hasn’t responded? The question of etiquette regarding how to approach faculty or staff when needing immediate assistance is one that deserves its own subsection. But, for some quick tips, I would encourage the following:

(1) If you have not received a response within 24 hours and the issue is pressing: do not be afraid to send us gentle reminders. I promise you that this is not a bother to us. (So many of my students apologize for reaching out – never apologize! That is what we are here for!)

(2) After a gentle reminder, if you have still not received a response in another 24 hours, check to see if you can schedule an appointment. Most all faculty and advisors have a scheduler that is either part of your student account or external, such as my preferred scheduler, Setmore.

(If you are a faculty member, advisor, or anyone who schedules appointments for any reason and do NOT have internal access to an appointment scheduler, I highly recommend Setmore. A faculty member in my Ph.D. program encouraged me to try it, after I complained about how much time it was taking to go back and forth via email in order to schedule. I am highly grateful to her! The interface looks great, connects to your outlook, and saves so much time.)

I encourage you to schedule appointments whenever you can. This ensures that we have designated time set aside in our day to adequately address your concerns.

(3) If you are unable to schedule an appointment, I would recommend one last attempt to directly engage with your faculty or advisor. In this reminder, make sure to articulate that this is your third attempt and either ask for an appointment, or whether there is someone else whom you can speak with to help address your concern(s).

(4) If you are trying to reach your advisor, after another 24 hours, try to contact another advisor in your department/college. If there are no other advisors, try to contact the chair or director of your department.

(5) If you are trying to reach a faculty member, contact the chair of the department where the faculty member is housed. For example, if you are an English student, taking Math 110, contact the chair of the math department NOT the English department.

(6) No matter who you contact, please make sure to be professional and respectful. Use the appropriate title for whomever you are addressing (i.e., Dr., Prof., Mr., Ms., etc.).

(7) Please do NOT exaggerate. If you only tried calling one time and did not leave a message: do not go straight to the Dean of the College saying, “I have tried contacting Dr. X multiple times, and have not had a response.” Throwing your faculty and/or staff under the bus will eventually be brought to their attention and will be remembered.

At this point, I feel fairly certain you will receive a response. If not, however, remember that there is a hierarchy in academia – it is important that you go through the correct motions, even if it is time-consuming. Please do not go straight to the Dean of the College, or the Provost, or the President of the University. Yes, your issue will likely be addressed, but you will forever be remembered as “that” student.

Keep in mind: these are the people that are going to be writing your recommendations for graduate school and employment later on.

In essence, I recommend that you try to follow the Golden Rule and treat others as you would want to be treated.

We know this time is a struggle. Know we are here to help and appreciate your patience as well as your gentle reminders.

Stay safe and and well!

Your Academic Advisor