Colleges are reopening in the fall but will the faculty come to campus? - GulfToday

Colleges are reopening in the fall but will the faculty come to campus?

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This photo has been used for illustrative purpose only.

Elyssa Cherney

Just because students might be returning to college campuses this fall doesn’t mean professors will be joining them.

Controversy over whether instructors need to be in the classroom during the fall term has erupted at campuses including the University of Notre Dame, where professors are pushing back, noting the dangers of face-to-face classes while the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.

These faculty members say they alone should determine how they will teach this fall. Notre Dame, however, is asking those with objections to in-person instruction to submit documentation of medical conditions and a formal request for accommodations. Those who taught remotely prior to the pandemic likely will not need to obtain special approval, said Paul Browne, a spokesman for Notre Dame.

But Eileen Hunt Botting, a political science professor who is spearheading the faculty opposition, said the application process is invasive, requiring colleagues to share personal medical information, and there’s no guarantee that a professor who is uncomfortable teaching on campus will be granted an exemption.


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“We want to encourage students to choose to study online as much as possible during the pandemic,” said Botting, who’s taught at Notre Dame, outside South Bend, Indiana, since 2001. “We ought to encourage faculty and staff to teach and work online during the pandemic if simply to eliminate unnecessary crowds on campus milling about on the sidewalks, unintentionally spreading the virus.”

Notre Dame’s position on in-person instruction is among the most rigid, showing how far universities are willing to go to compel professors to return to campuses after classes were abruptly moved online this spring. College faculty, who are generally older and more likely to develop complications from a COVID-19 infection than students, say that being forced to teach in person could expose family members in their homes to the virus, and also question whether all students will adhere to a variety of new safety protocols that are supposed to be in place.

On the other end of the spectrum, the University of Chicago recently announced that it will not require any of its instructors, including graduate students, to teach in person for the fall quarter, which begins on Sept.29 for most classes. In an update released recently, U. of C. said a limited number of classes will be held in-person. New students will be given priority to enrol in such courses so they can acclimate to the university setting.

“Due to these extraordinary circumstances, the University is temporarily suspending the normal requirement that teaching be done in person,” the Office of the Provost said in a message to faculty.

education 3 Students of the the Polytechnic Institute throw their hats into the air during the graduation ceremony. File/AP

The school will not require faculty to submit medical records or impose a deadline on the decision, said spokesman Jeremy Manier.

That might present a challenge to students as they consider not just which classes to take but also whether they should move back to campus at all or continue taking virtual courses at home. Some schools are designating how courses will be offered when students register and notifying them about any changes.

Na’ama Rokem, an associate professor of modern Hebrew literature and comparative literature at U. of C., said she was pleased the school leadership is trusting its staff to make the decision on their own and that it won’t ask faculty to share personal medical information.

“We’re very happy about this,” said Rokem, who is also an elected member of the university senate. “This represents, precisely, the faith of the institution in our judgment, as the people who carry out the teaching and research mission of the university.”

Rokem said she is slated to teach only one class this fall — an advanced course for graduate students — and will likely offer it remotely. She said she feels confident she can develop a high-quality online class with all the time she has to prepare over the summer break, as opposed to the abrupt switch this spring. Most of the colleagues she’s conversed with are also planning to teach online, Rokem said.

“Of course we all want to be back in our classrooms. This is what we’re there for,” she said. “There’s no desire to stay online forever, but I think with some experience, a lot of us have the sense that if we plan well, it can actually be a decent temporary replacement.”

The U. of C.’s chapter said it was also concerned about staff who can’t work remotely — such as those in libraries, dining halls and maintenance — who might not be allowed to stay at home. The group said there should also be systems in place to ensure that lower-rung faculty, including instructors seeking tenure or contract renewals, don’t feel pressured into offering in-person classes.

With coronavirus cases surging in the southern and western parts of the country, colleges are constantly fine-tuning reopening plans for the fall. Some have been especially hard hit by the costs of adapting, doling out millions of dollars in refunds for room and board, and losing revenue from cancelled events.

And every college seems to be handling the question of in-person instruction differently.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the format of each course will be decided by individual programmes and academic departments, depending on the type of course and faculty availability, said spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

“We recognise that faculty and graduate instructors may have health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic that may prevent them from returning to face-to-face instruction, and we want to insure that they have an opportunity to engage with students remotely,” Kaler said in an emailed statement.

College leaders are walking a fine line: They want to keep students and staff safe, but some also worry that enrolment will drop off if they can’t provide a full on-campus experience. And they know that many students and their parents are wary of paying hefty tuition costs just for online classes taken at home.

Tribune News Service

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