Rector's Update - June 2020

July 3, 2020


Dear Colleagues, 

1. Exams—logistical aspects. The Corona epidemic has posed considerable challenges for all of us, including in the field of instruction. So far, we have met the challenges successfully, thanks to the wonderful mobilization of all our senior and junior academic staff and our administrative staff. However, the main challenge still seems to be ahead of us—the administration of exams.

As of the present writing, in accordance with the Ministry of Health guidelines, exams cannot be held on campus. Exams will be either take-home exams or online ones. We are still trying to convince the CHE to approve having at least some of the exams take place on campus.

2. Exams—Academic aspects. There are insecurities about academic achievement on exams. Sweeping distance learning is not an optimal way to learn. In light of this, we made a series of adjustments that aim to partially deal with this difficulty:

a) Recording lessons. With the consent of the Faculty Union, due to the state of emergency, lessons for this semester were recorded and the recordings are available to students enrolled in the course. The recordings should be available to students until the end of the exam period.

b) As much as possible, faculty members should take into account the challenges posed by distance learning where exam requirements are concerned. This is a matter left to the instructor’s discretion and it is necessary to consider this matter in advance. It is necessary to check in each course whether the distribution of grades on the exam deviates from the standard distribution of grades in the course in previous years. If a deviation is detected, faculty members should consider the possibility of granting an addition to the grade ("Factor"). Granting a Factor is not mandatory, but must be examined to see whether there is justification for doing so.

c) A general issue that is not related to the pandemic is the style in which exam questions are written. A study conducted by the Young Academy found a correlation (and arguably, a statistically significant one) between the student’s achievement on exams and the gender in which the questions on the exams were formulated. In the mathematical fields, women’s achievement fell significantly short of male achievement when exam questions were formulated using only the male gender. In the study, this gap almost disappeared when questions were formulated in the plural or gender-neutral forms. We are committed to ensuring equal opportunities for all students, so please try to avoid using only the male gender when formulating questions.

d) Students who will be forced to re-enroll in a course that they failed in the current academic year will be eligible for tuition exemption for this course (an automatic exemption is offered for one course; applications for exemption for a second course will be considered on an individual basis).

e) We granted sweeping extensions regarding the submission of seminar papers (which may be submitted by 1 October 2020) and final projects for the master’s degree (the committee granted a one-semester extension until the end of the semester break of the fifth semester of study towards the degree) with no extra tuition fees. The Research Students Authority will discuss individual requests for extension dates. Research students in the experimental sciences were also granted a sweeping three-month extension to the various deadlines.

3. Teaching in the next academic year. We are preparing our policy of teaching for next academic year.

a) The scenario that now seems likely is that we will be able to teach on campus, but with limitations similar to those currently in place. Synchronous distance teaching is preferable to disabling learning altogether, but is not a good enough substitute for classroom instruction. A think team recommended to prioritize on-campus teaching for first-year undergraduate students. Adjustments will be required in the teaching format for these courses, almost all of which are taught in large groups. One option is to make use of the “flipped classroom” teaching method composed of two elements: (1) a recorded lesson—the instructor will record relatively short lectures (up to 40 minutes each) which students will view during their free time and will be added to the course reading assignments; and (2) study in small groups during class-time with several simultaneous meetings of small groups in several spaces. These sessions will be devoted to further teaching, questions and discussion. Each group is led by a teaching assistant, and the instructor will divide his/her time among the groups. It is also possible to rotate between Zoom sessions for the whole class and learning in small classes. We will also strive to conduct classes on campus for courses with up to 50 students.

b) Given that we expect that a significant portion of the courses will be taught remotely, all instructors who are expected to teach in the first semester next year will participate in a distance learning workshop offered by the Teaching and Learning Unit during the summer. In the coming weeks, the Teaching and Learning Unit will complete preparation of the workshops, which will be devoted to aspects of the techno-pedagogy of distance learning. The workshops will begin as soon as possible, and no later than August 2020.

c) We are examining the fundamental issue of how to integrate distance teaching with classroom instruction during normal times. A committee appointed to examine the matter, headed by Aaron Palmon, released its conclusions. The report addresses the various aspects in detail, and includes appendices with the findings of the various surveys conducted at the University on this topic. The Standing Committee is expected to formulate our fundamental policy soon. Please refer to the report (here, in Hebrew) and submit your comments.

4. Various faculty matters.

a) The coronavirus crisis has, of course, also hurt the members of the academic staff, both because of the need to fundamentally change teaching methods and the greater difficulty of teaching remotely, and by delaying the possibility of completing research. We are working to reduce this harm, even if slightly. On one level, the trial period for non-tenured instructors can be extended. The extension period, up to one year, will be determined on an individual basis. Please make a reasoned request regarding this matter to the dean, now or in due course.

b) Compliance with the criteria for eligibility for an academic grant will be adapted to the special circumstances, including: participation in conferences - in view of the cancellation of international conferences notification of acceptance to the conference is sufficient lowering of the Student Satisfaction Survey threshold (the new threshold will be determined once the survey results are published). Teaching a zoom course is not, in itself, considered a stand-in for the “preparation of an online course,” which refers to recording non-lecture lessons. Teachers who do not meet at least four of the eleven criteria should submit a reasoned request to the dean, detailing the special circumstances that prevented them from meeting the criteria, and their request will be examined.

c) I would like to remind everyone that the University’s appointment and promotion procedures are confidential. Recently, there have been several instances where confidentiality was violated in professional committee hearings, severely impairing the committees’ work. Please do not share any information about the proceedings with any person who is not a member of the committee. This includes information about your tenure in the professional committee. Violation of confidentiality may lead to disciplinary proceedings.

5.   Finally, we send our warm congratulations to our colleague Chezy Barenholz of the Faculty of Medicine, recipient of this year’s EMET Prize (prestigious national Israeli prize for Art, Science and Culture), for the field of Nanotechnology. Chezy’s scientific contribution is extraordinary, and includes important discoveries in basic science in the fields of biochemistry and the biophysics of liposomes and membranes. Chezy lead the development of a number of drugs, the best known of which is Doxil (developed together with his student Gilad Haran), a drug used to treat several types of cancer, including ovarian cancer. Chezy also makes outstanding contributions in instruction and academic administration. He directs the MBA biomedicine specialization program, on a volunteer basis, in addition to leading a wide range of other activities.

Many thanks again for your contribution to our community.

Here’s to a fruitful and fun summer and good health!

Barak Medina, Rector