As Covid cases hit records, instructors call for more flexibility in the classroom

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While most residential colleges begin their January terms with in-person instruction, some faculty and students are pushing back, asking administrators to allow online course offerings for a few weeks, until the surge of cases of Covid-19 caused by the Omicron variant dies.

But rather than demanding all-remote learning — a common refrain at the start of the pandemic, when more people were at risk of serious illness due to lack of vaccines — some faculty members have a more modest demand: greater flexibility. in the way they teach while cases are high, especially for instructors with health complications or family members not eligible for vaccinations.

At the University of Louisville, more than 1,600 people have signed a petition titled “Keep All Cardinals Safe!” – which is pushing instructors to have the ability, on a case-by-case basis, to move teaching online until Covid-19 cases subside.

Members of the university chapter of the United Campus Workers of Kentucky, a union, drafted the petition on Friday after professors were briefed by the acting president and acting dean of arts and sciences — Louisville’s largest college. – that classes designated as in-person may not be moved online. Violations, the acting dean said, can result in disciplinary action. (The university has since moderated its rhetoric on discipline, The Courier-Journal reported.)

“I have three younger colleagues who have kids under 2 who obviously aren’t vaccinated because they’re too small,” said Tracy K’Meyer, a history teacher.

“There’s no reason not to give them flexibility,” she said. “There really is no reason.”

When the petition was sent, she quickly signed it. “There was definitely this feeling of anxiety and frustration that was spreading, and then the petition and stuff gave it an outlet,” K’Meyer said.

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Just this week, K’Meyer learned that a student she spoke to a day earlier in class had tested positive. Given the lack of university guidance, she said she had to decide for herself what to do.

“My response so far has been to post a video recording of the lecture and tell students if they can come to class or not. I’ll be there if they want to be there, and if not, that’s fine,” she said, “I’m basically going to play it by ear, class by class, because there’s not a lot of guidance on what you should do in this situation.”

Faculty members at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor who want the option to teach virtually have also struggled to convince administrators.

The university’s non-tenured faculty union, the Lecturers’ Employees Organization, has urged the administration to leave discretion to professors. “We believe the university should trust faculty to make the right decisions,” said Kirsten F. Herold, speaker and union president. “Of course, you should teach online if you have a lot of sick students or you’re not feeling well.”

The Michigan administration recently acknowledged that teaching may have to take place online in certain circumstances, but a few faculty members still fear facing retaliation from supervisors.

“The administration isn’t outright threatening faculty, but they’re not explicitly saying they won’t either,” Herold said. “If a person is tenured… I mean, what are you going to do with a teacher who says he’s going to stay on for another week?” But for a speaker who is a new hire, you might see it come back to bite him when decisions are made about reappointments. Technically, that’s insubordination.

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The university’s undergraduates seem to support professors who want to teach their classes virtually. The student government on Wednesday passed a resolution in favor of an ‘e-pivot’ and other Covid-19 accommodations

Dangerous policies?

At the University of Oregon, the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, which represents more than 1,400 graduate staff, is urging the administration to move most classes online until the current Covid-19 surge is over. .

The university’s student government, Associated Students of the University of Oregon, endorsed the federation’s request and urged students to do the same in a letter released last week.

On January 6, the university announced a policy allowing instructors to move classes online for a limited time if their classes experience 20% or more Covid-related absences, “to provide more equitable access to classes for students”, if approved by the deans. and department heads. The announcement still emphasized in-person teaching as the best course of action whenever possible.

In response, the federation filed a lawsuit a few days later against the university with the state’s Employment Relations Board. Administrators had not negotiated working conditions or communicated with the federation before instituting the new policy, said Adam Quinn, who holds a doctorate. student in history and vice-president of communication of the federation.

“There are many opinions on campus about the details of potential and safer policies, and if it weren’t for the level of spread we’re seeing, many of us would rather be in person,” Quinn said. “But overall, students and faculty are behind us and view current policies as dangerous, desiring stronger and more cohesive efforts to curb the spread of Covid.”

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Kay Jarvis, a spokesperson for the university, said the administration is reviewing the complaint and following the advice of public health officials.

Several universities responded to the alarm over Omicron’s surge by temporarily starting their new terms online. Some, citing soaring Covid-19 cases and breakthrough infections, have recently extended those plans, further delaying a return to physical classrooms.

Ohio State University is not one of them. Tens of thousands of students returned to its main campus on Monday, and some faculty worry about the burden the influx could place on the surrounding community.

Many complaints about the quality of online learning stem from the early days of the pandemic, when educators and students struggled to figure out how to make distance learning work, in many cases for the very first time. But now, said Ohio State law professor Guy A. Rub, most faculty members have learned to teach online and can make the switch quickly, especially in areas like law, which require little equipment.

He said most students can still get a decent education in a temporary online environment, which is why he wants the university to push back in-person learning for a few weeks. Those who needed in-person classes, such as a lab, could still attend.

“For most of us, studying on Zoom isn’t so bad. It might not be as good as studying in person, but it’s almost as good,” Rub said. Say, something that’s almost as good and I can also help the healthcare system, help the community, so why not?

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