COVID-19 Impacts to Academic Department Operations, January to August 2021

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Fewer than 27% of departments reported COVID-related impacts on departmental staffing between January and August 2021. Between April and August 2021, around 10% of departments reported hiring freezes and leaving posi­tions unfilled. During the same period, less than 10% of departments reported layoffs, reduced hours, and benefits and salary reductions. Active hiring picked up in May, with departments primarily hiring to fill positions created by layoffs as well as new positions.

DB_2021-028 chart 01: Departmental staffing impacts (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

Active faculty searches peaked in February 2021 with 48% of departments conducting at least one search. By August 2021, the percentage of departments with active searches declined to 20%, representing a fairly normal phasing of faculty search activity.

Travel and fieldwork by faculty was at a nadir in April 2021 with 48% of institutions or departments having policies that prevented faculty travel and fieldwork. Since then, most departments have reported that faculty are free to travel with limited institutional restrictions.

DB_2021-028 chart 02: Departments with active faculty searches (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

DB_2021-028 chart 03: Departments with faculty on travel or in the field (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

In August 2021, 30% of departments offered permanent remote work for their faculty and staff, and half of depart­ments reported offering limited in-office attendance. Mean­while, over 80% of departments allowed full-time in-office attendance in August 2021, up from 59% in April 2021, and 70% of departments offered limited remote work in August 2021, up from 57% in July 2021. Over half of departments continued to provide fieldwork and lab access to their faculty and staff.

While there has been an increasing percentage of faculty reporting that they are working in the office, the percentage of faculty reporting working from home has only slightly decreased from April 2021. In August 2021, most faculty were working both in the office and at home to various levels, with 85% of faculty working from the office or on campus, and 80% reported working from home. This multi-modal work approach was evenly divided with equal number of faculty working in the office at least half-time and working from home at least half-time.

DB_2021-028 chart 04: Workplace policies available to faculty and staff (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

DB_2021-028 chart 05: Work location of geoscience academic faculty (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

DB_2021-028 chart 06: Time at work site by location, academic faculty, August 2021 (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)


Departments reported that concerns moderately to extremely driven by the pandemic have generally declined throughout the year. However, with the spread of the Delta variant, con­cerns about workplace safety and attracting students jumped in August 2021. Concerns over maintaining staffing levels peaked in May 2021, thereafter declining at the same time as active hiring picked up.

DB_2021-028 chart 07: Concerns of geoscience departments moderately to extremely driven by COVID-19 (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

Changes in recruiting for Fall 2021

Changes to the Fall 2021 recruiting cycle were reported by 56% of departments, with approximately one quarter of departments indicating that they would be focusing on online recruiting, 4% indicating that they would be increasing their recruiting activities, and 8% indicating that plans for Fall 2021 recruiting were still to be finalized as of May 2021. One-fifth of departments indicated other recruiting approaches, including an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion outreach activities, increased outreach to admitted students, and a focus on graduate student recruiting.

We will continue to provide current snapshots on the impacts of COVID-19 on the geoscience enterprise throughout the year. For more information, and to participate in the study, please visit:

Funding for this project is provided by the National Science Foundation (Award #2029570). The results and interpretation of the survey are the views of the American Geosciences Institute and not those of the National Science Foundation.