Cornell University

Mental Health at Cornell

Resources for student & campus well-being

MHR Faculty Message

Promoting a healthy academic environment for our students
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Dear Faculty,

Happy New Year. As preparations for the spring semester continue to move forward, we are reaching out to you with a few suggestions and reminders for promoting a healthy academic environment for our students.

In the fall of 2018, President Pollack commissioned a review of Cornell’s academic and social environment, climate, and culture as they relate to student mental health. The Mental Health Review Final Report highlights a number of concerning themes for our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, including an unhealthy culture of competition, lack of balance in students’ lives, and students’ difficulty seeking help. In the spirit of addressing issues raised by the report to improve student mental health and wellbeing, we are sharing three of the report’s recommendations that can be accomplished with your support. This year has been particularly challenging for our students, making our attention to these recommendations even more important.

  1. Refraining from Assigning Academic Work During Scheduled Breaks. In 2011, the Faculty Senate passed Faculty Resolution 85 on Academic Work During Scheduled Breaks, strongly discouraging faculty from assigning academic work over scheduled breaks. Consistent with this Faculty Senate resolution, and of paramount importance this difficult year, we ask that you not schedule any exams or make any graded assignments due during the two short breaks scheduled March 9-10 and April 23-26, nor on the day immediately following.

    In parallel, we remind you, in accordance with Policy 1.3, graduate students appointed on any combination of full assistantships or fellowships for spring, summer and fall terms are entitled to two weeks of annual vacation each 12-month period, in addition to Cornell University holidays. As the semester begins, this is a good time to have open communication with your graduate students about plans for vacation time.
  2. Providing Students with Essential Course Information and Setting Clear Expectations. The report recommends that faculty increase the availability of course syllabi during pre-enrollment. This recommendation stems from the desire, frequently cited by students, that they have more information about courses before enrollment, especially regarding course workload, assessments, and attendance policies. If you are not already doing so, please post your syllabi to the Class Roster. If you have concerns or are not ready to upload your entire syllabi, you can upload modified versions that provide overviews of your courses (including learning goals), information about the nature of your assignments and how students will be evaluated in the course, and any special course policies. (For more information about how to upload syllabi, see instructions here.) Advising/mentoring relationships are central to graduate student success. Please review the Advising Guide for Graduate Faculty provided by the Graduate School.

    Strong relationships with your graduate students depend on frequent communication and clearly established expectations.
  3. Encouraging Help-Seeking Behaviors. The report further recommends that we communicate to students that seeking help as needed is important for their wellbeing. Faculty can facilitate this by encouraging students to take advantage of resources such as their college advising office, the Graduate School, Cornell Health, Student Disability Services, and the Learning Strategies Center. Additionally, please let students know how to best contact you when they have questions about or need help with course work.

If you have concerns about an undergraduate student’s academic progress or personal wellbeing, please use the Student of Concern portal to share your concerns. The link can also be found in the Help section of Canvas. For more immediate concerns, you should contact the appropriate college office or Cornell Health at 607-255-5155.

During the fall semester, we were able to gather valuable feedback from students regarding their learning experiences. We will follow up later this month with a summary of lessons learned that can inform your teaching and advising this semester.

We are deeply grateful for your extraordinary efforts on behalf of students this past year.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Boor
Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education

Lisa Nishii
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education