1. Activities of SPbU Choir during the COVID-19 pandemic
At the beginning of the Rector’s Meeting, all the participants had a change to listen to the recording of the song “Our University” composed by L. Tikhomirov and performed by SPbU Choir (artistic director E. Krotman).
This is not the first composition recorded by the University Choir during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Earlier, the choir already performed online the song “Coronavirus shall not pass!” composed by Sergei Pleshak.
2. On the fire at SPbU halls of residence
At 11 p.m. on May 22 there was a fire at Student Halls of Residence No. 16 (64/4 Botanicheskaya Ulitsa, Peterhof, apartment-type halls of residence), in the housekeeping area on the 9th floor. The fire alarm system went off automatically, but the system of automatic signal transmission to the central console of the Emergency Centre of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, installed at the request of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and serviced by a licensed company, did not. The fire brigade was called by the on duty personnel of the security desk. 13 people were evacuated. At 11:55 p.m. the fire was extinguished. There were no injuries. The Ministry of Emergency Situations is investigating the causes of the fire.
The participants of the meeting mentioned that the University has more than one fire per year. Unfortunately, in most cases the fires are caused by people, smoking in undesignated areas. Once a quarter, a routine check of the technical condition of all engineering systems, including the electricity mains, is carried out in all halls of residence. Representatives of the student community always take part in these checks. During the recent inspection in Halls of Residence No.16 serious violations were identified. On May 23-24, the condition of electric service panels was checked in all of the University halls of residence.
3. On software support
Directors, deans, and heads of some departments have been sending requests for the University to purchase a variety of resources to provide video conferencing for teaching sessions, online conferences, and the diploma paper/project defence procedure. There are also requests from students and teachers to purchase both personal and corporate subscriptions to the software of various video conferencing systems. These applications have been collected, and the issue is being analysed. The decision will be made when all proposals have been considered and also following the results of the interim and final assessment. Directors and deans have been instructed to send proposals to S.Yu. Sevryukov and E.G. Chernova.
4. About the meeting on the current situation in the educational system
On May 21, a video conferencing meeting “On the situation in the educational system during the outbreak of a new coronavirus infection” was held. The meeting was chaired by the Russian President V. Putin. The Rector of SPbU N.M. Kropachev took part in that meeting.
5. On the change in some indicators of the educational work at SPbU during the COVID-19 outbreak
The Rector’s Meeting discussed the changes in some indicators of the educational work at SPbU during the outbreak of the coronavirus infection (COVID-19). At the very beginning of the change-over to remote work, the directors and deans submitted proposals for amendments to be introduced in the curricula. These mainly concerned those subjects and practical training sessions that required working with equipment or required personal presence (for example, the subjects of the educational programmes in the field of arts). Currently, 403 educational programmes are being implemented at the University. Within these programmes, 12,187 subjects have been scheduled this semester. Following the proposals from the deans and the directors, the decision was made to use online courses to either fully or partially replace 406 subjects. 79 items from the curriculum, 17 practical training items and 62 subjects were postponed to later dates in the future (or reshuffled: for example, subjects of the next fall semester are moved to the current semester, while the subjects of the current semester, which are impossible to implement now, are moved to the next fall semester).
6. On requests concerning the quality of the educational process
Throughout the semester, the directors and the deans have been closely monitoring the implementation of the academic subjects. Unsurprisingly, certain difficulties do arise, but if a student or a teacher quickly informs the administration about any problems, they are resolved as quickly. In addition to the opportunity to contact directors and deans directly, all university students can contact the Virtual Reception Office, starting from 2011. The meeting participants were informed that after the change-over to distance learning had been implemented, only 506 requests were received by the Virtual Reception Office. Of these, only 11 questions were related to the content or the teaching of the subjects. Most of the requests concerned the problems associated with either incorrect assessment of exam results and tests (About tests at the SPbU College of Physical Culture and Sports), or, as in the case of one learning group of law students, with the reluctance and unwillingness of a particular teacher to conduct classroom sessions online. With regard to all requests received by the Virtual Reception Office, the necessary measures were promptly taken.
The directors and deans spoke about the issues raised by the students and teachers in the course of the last week. Like in the previous weeks, last week most directors and deans held meetings with department heads and discussions with student councils. For instance, the dean of the Faculty of Law said that during such a discussion with the student council some issues were raised in connection with organization of work with the Blackboard system, including testing for plagiarism of student works uploaded into the system and methodological support for teaching of certain subjects.
The dean of the Faculty of International Relations reported that no student or teacher requests requiring a prompt solution had been received during the past week. Earlier in April and early May, the chair of the student council twice presented to the dean his own investigation of possible student problems, which helped to take prompt measures and solve all the problems identified. The Dean emphasized that all these issues had been resolved and were being resolved once they were received, in constant interaction with the student council. The director of the Institute of History reported on the results of student surveys. According to him, all the difficulties that were identified during these surveys have been resolved.
The deans of the Faculties of Political Science, Sociology and Applied Mathematics and Control Processes talked about solving during the past week the issues connected with the scheduling of tests and exams. There were no requests regarding other issues.
The director of the Institute of Earth Sciences reported that he had received oral complaints about the teaching of certain subjects. These issues were quickly resolved through communication with teachers. The director of the Institute of Philosophy spoke about working with teachers who found it difficult to switch to the online teaching format; they promptly received the necessary assistance from other colleagues of the Institute and from the staff of the Information Technology Service.
The director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications spoke about a fourth-year student of the “Journalism” educational programme, who was self-isolating. Every effort has been taken to ensure that the student, in spite of the difficult circumstances, can complete and defend her diploma paper.
The dean of the Faculty of Psychology spoke about the questions regarding the format for the teaching internship, about students’ proposals for purchasing a video-conferencing system. She emphasized that students of psychology are always ready for meaningful cooperation.
The deputy director of the Graduate School of Management said that teachers and students were asking how exchange education would be organized in the next academic year. The Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and Methodological Support explained that organization of exchange education would depend on the decisions made at the government level and on the epidemiological situation in the countries where partner universities were located.
The first deputy dean of the Faculty of Economics said that teachers and students were currently more concerned about the interim assessment. All the necessary information on this issue has been provided to the students. He also talked about resolving the issue with pre-graduation practical training of one of the students.
The dean of the Faculty of Philology spoke about a meeting with the members of the student council held on May 22. During the meeting, students were told that if they did not have the equipment necessary for the final state assessment, such equipment would be provided to them by the University - on a loan basis for the period needed to conduct the final state assessment. The equipment would be distributed by the directors, deans or their deputies. In addition, the questions discussed included the work of the SPbU Non-profit Translation Centre, as well as the postponement of the Day of Philologist and Orientalist celebrations to the end of September. Students were also interested in the format of the graduation ceremony. They were informed that the ceremony, like it is the case now with other universities, would be held online. Students can make suggestions about the organization of the ceremony. The issue of admissions to the master’s degree programmes was also discussed.
The deans of the Faculties of Arts, Foreign Languages, Mathematics and Computer Science, Dental Medicine and Medical Technologies, Medicine, Asian and African Studies, Biology, Mathematics and Mechanics, the directors of the Institute of Pedagogy and the Institute of Chemistry reported that they had not received any questions about the educational process over the past week.
The dean of the Faculty of Physics said that students were concerned about the organization of the diploma paper/project oral defence procedure with regard to the proctoring system. Explanatory work is being carried out with all the students concerned about this issue.
Like before, all requests and complaints received by the deans and the directors in connection with the change-over to online learning are also be submitted to the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and Methodological Support for the purpose of carrying out a detailed analysis and making appropriate adjustments to the organization of the educational process.
7. A prestigious scientific award received by the Head of the SPbU laboratory Arto Urtti
The Head of the SPbU Laboratory of Biohybrid Technologies, Professor Arto Urtti received the highly prestigious Takeru & Aya Higuchi Memorial Lectureship Award from the Academy of Pharmaceutical Science and Technology of Japan. The award is given out every two years in recognition of ground-breaking medical drug research.
The Russian and Finnish research teams led by Professor Urtti work on the delivery of drugs into cells and tissues as well as developing novel computational and cell models for drug research in the field of ophthalmology.
8. Lung ventilator prototype
The Vice-Rector for Research S.V. Mikushev talked about the achievements of the young team from SPbU Dynamics, developing a lung ventilator (Proceedings of the Rector’s Meeting of 2 May 2020). The team’s obvious achievement is the speed of their work on the emerging ideas: in just two weeks they succeeded in developing a lung ventilator prototype from scratch. Of course, there is still a long way to go before a wide use of the product can be achieved, so the offer from the dean of the Faculty of Medicine, P.K. Yablonsky to help with expert review of the solutions applied in the project in terms of the specific requirements for medical equipment and a proposal to share the know-how of the staff members, which can lead to the development of a better product, is highly welcome.
9. Research foundations to recognise the electronic signature of SPbU
On April 30, at the initiative of St. Petersburg State University, SPbU and the Russian Research Foundation (RRF) signed an Agreement on recognition of a basic electronic signature as an equivalent to a handwritten signature, i.e. the electronic documents submitted to the RRF and signed with a basic electronic signature of the authorised employee on behalf of the organization will be equivalent to paper documents signed with the handwritten signature of the designated person.
This agreement makes it possible to submit to the Foundation interim reports on the implementation of projects in the electronic form, while the Foundation has the right to request from the organization, and the organization is obliged to provide, duly certified printed paper versions of the electronic documents within the time limits established by the Agreement. The final reports on the implementation of projects (just like it was before) must be submitted to the Foundation within the established deadlines, in print format and signed accordingly.
This Agreement also makes it possible to submit applications to the Foundation to participate in open public tenders for grants awarded by the Foundation in electronic form. If the Foundation decides to award a grant, it will be necessary to submit to the Foundation a printed application form signed by the head of the organization (by an authorized representative acting on the basis of a power of attorney or an administrative document), the project manager and the principal executors of the project (if any).
10. On preparing proposals for the amendment of the University Student and Staff Code of Conduct
The working group for preparing proposals for the amendment of the SPbU Student and Staff Code of Conduct, governing the issues of corporate ethics, continues its work (Proceedings of the Rector’s Meeting of 21 December 2019).
The Chair of the working group, the dean of the Faculty of Psychology, A.V. Shaboltas spoke about the interim results of the group’s work. The head of the Department of Applied Ethics at SPbU, V.Yu. Perov, who applied to be included in the working group via the Virtual Reception Office, has joined the group. Since the working group started its work, several meetings have been held. According to A.V. Shaboltas, all members of the working group have submitted their suggestions and comments on the issue.
The members of the working group state that on the whole the current University Code of Conduct defines all the main moral and ethical foundations of university life (How are ethical issues resolved at the University?), which is why, over the years of its work, the SPbU Ethics Commission has investigated various facts of discrimination based on gender, nationality, religious grounds and many others. At the same time, the members of the commission believe that there is a need to further specify certain provisions and clarify the concepts used in the Code in order to ensure a common understanding by all students and staff members of the ethical standards of university life. For instance, it is necessary to specify in more detail the inadmissibility of any discrimination, as well as the inadmissibility of other unethical forms of behaviour, for example, showing disrespect for colleagues, unethical resolution of conflict situations, etc.
The meeting participants mentioned specific complaints submitted to the Ethics Commission and related to specific facts of unethical behaviour, including protectionism, abusive language and sexual harassment.
There were, for instance, two cases when teachers decided to leave the University of their own accord in order to avoid being investigated by the Ethics Commission in connection with sexist attitudes alleged by the claimants. The dean of one of the faculties asked for retirement from his position after the Commission investigated a complaint about insults against the subordinates. Head of one of the departments was also removed from his position after a group of students had submitted to the Ethics Commission a complaint concerning the insults directed at them.
At the same time, A.V. Shaboltas said that the members of the working group had come to the conclusion that it was necessary to explicitly and openly outline provisions on inadmissibility of such actions, as some students and staff members had admitted before that they had simply not thought about the possible consequences of such actions; she also stressed that the university community had long developed a clear and unambiguous position on the corresponding issues. The meeting participants also recalled an incident with one of SPbU employees, the courtyard cleaner N. P. Boginich. Not only did he insult his colleagues, but also acted in a way that some staff members qualified as sexual harassment (Decision of the Ethics Commission of June 27, 2019). The meeting participants also discussed the importance of timely reporting of such problems, with the victims not being afraid to do so if such problems arise. It is often the lack of information that prevents us from taking appropriate measures against the individuals violating the ethical standards. Therefore, there are cases when the information about such violations was published by the victims only after the teacher/staff member had already left (or had been fired from) the University and the student had already graduated or had had their University enrolment terminated. In such a situation, it is no longer possible to take the necessary measures. The working group also proposed to develop recommendations for the application of the Code provisions and to formulate the procedural rules for the work of the SPbU Ethics Commission. The directors and deans stated their willingness to discuss the issue with members of their departments and to submit their proposals to amend the University Code of Conduct.
11. On conducting the final state assessment
On May 23, a webinar was held on conducting the final state assessment, attended by directors, deans, chairs of State Assessment Boards (SAB) and coordinators.
The Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and Methodological Support also said that 56 students had taken the diploma paper/project oral defence procedure during the past week. All of them were successful. Technical connection problems experienced by some SAB members were quickly resolved.
Before the start of official oral defence sessions, test sessions were held to test the proctoring system, last week included. The test sessions were to identify the possibility for and readiness of the students to participate in the final state assessment. Besides, a student survey was conducted last week. On the basis of the test sessions and surveys, students who did not participate in any of the mentioned events were identified. For all such cases, the directors and deans contacted the students to clarify the situation. So, for example, it turned out that three students did not plan to participate in the final state assessment at all, while some just had no time to complete the survey. The work to identify such students continues now; they will be provided with the necessary support.
The Senor Vice-Rector talked about some of the request submitted in connection with the final state assessment. Students continue to ask question about the possibility of postponing the diploma paper/project oral defence. The postponement is possible for a good reason, including the impact of the anti-epidemic measures and the change-over to online learning. In order to get the postponement, students need to submit an application to the Academic Office, requesting to either be granted academic leave, or to have the assessment postponed to the next assessment period.
Another question was related to the size of the diploma paper (up to 55 pages of text, according to the final state assessment programme): are there any restrictions connected with the Blackboard system where the work is uploaded? The Senior Vice-Rector said that there were no technical restrictions, but advised to follow the recommendations outlined in the final state assessment programme.
The participants of the meeting also discussed a request submitted to the Virtual Reception Office regarding the composition of the state assessment board. Due to the fact that all orders on the composition of the state assessment boards are publicly available online and everyone can make their proposals to introduce changes to such orders, it has been found out that affiliation of one of the members of the State Assessment Board for the main field of study “Journalism” was indicated incorrectly in the respective order. Affiliation of another member of the State Assessment Board with the organization indicated in the order ended already after the issuance of the order. The University was informed about that by the organization itself. Thanks to the mentioned requests, the necessary changes were introduced to the orders. The Senior Vice-Rector asked the directors and the deans to be even more attentive to all information about candidates for state assessment board membership when preparing their proposals for inclusion of members in the assessment boards.