SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — After weeks of expressing their concerns to administrators about Texas State University’s plans to reopen, some professors are going public.
“People who have kids, or even the students themselves, need to be aware of what’s happening and the dangers involved, and hopefully the administration will do a little more about it,” says Carol Delaney, an associate professor in the department of curriculum and instruction.
“People are anxious,” says colleague Gail Dickinson. “Those anxieties are legitimate and should be taken seriously.”
Delaney and Dickinson are two of 95 faculty members who say the university is reopening too quickly and that faculty have been underrepresented in the decision-making process.
They penned a letter in late May voicing those concerns to administrators.
“Reopening poses a serious medical and life risk to the Texas State community,” the letter reads.
Since then, the university has published their Roadmap to Return, outlining safety measures and best practices for Summer II and Fall classes.
The medical director says eight working groups of about 120 students, faculty and staff came up with the back-to-school strategies.
“The university work groups took extensive input from faculty and staff into account when developing the recommendations for reopening,” a university spokesperson told KXAN News in an email.
But Delaney and Dickinson say faculty was underrepresented.
“Without that representation, now we have people that are dictating what will happen without a very democratic input,” Dickinson says.
“I know they’re trying to make it safe. We appreciate all the work they’ve done. But on the other hand, I still don’t think it’s guaranteed to be safe,” Delaney says.
The professors say enforcement of safety measures isn’t well thought out, either.
For example, Dickinson says, if she catches a student cheating, there is a formal reporting process that goes onto that student’s record and can lead to academic sanctions.
So far, professors haven’t received any direction on how to handle students who don’t follow rules, like wearing a mask or standing six feet apart.
“We can have students that are ‘Typhoid Mary’s’ running on campus from class to class getting kicked out, and there was no response for that,” Dickinson says.
When asked about enforcement last week, a spokesperson for Texas State told KXAN’s Tahera Rahman that campus police would not be involved.
Delaney and Dickinson say they’ve been told professors are required to teach at least part of their classes in-person, unless they have a medical reason — which would need to go through a process of approval.
They say they’ve also been advised to come up with a teaching plan for not only in-person classes, but also hybrid and online versions.
“The reality is that not all our students will fit in the class. So we’re going to have to have some kind of hybrid option for students that aren’t physically present, but we also have to develop online options for kids that fall sick — and in case we fall sick,” says Dickinson, who already has summer students that have contracted COVID-19. “It’s not like you can just design a face-to-face class. You’re coming up with three separate syllabi, really, and three separate sets of materials.”
Both she and Dickinson say planning for fully online fall courses now is the safest and most effective teaching method.
“When you know people are going to get sick, and then they’re going to have to self-isolate and go online, anyway…It doesn’t make sense to me to to plan that way. It doesn’t make sense in terms of quality instruction,” Dickinson says.
“If some people want to teach on campus, I guess that’s an option, but I actually think the safest option is for everything to be online for at least another semester,” Delaney says.
A spokesperson for Texas State University says they do not plan to roll back their reopening plans, which roll out for Summer II because next week.
A spokesperson for the Texas State University System says they are trying to accommodate students who want in-person classes as much as possible — while also balancing faculty concerns.
He said right now, it is too soon to make a call for fully online courses for the fall but that each campus is responsible for working with faculty on their preferred teaching options.