Reopening colleges and universities for students presents unique problems for these schools.
As my Washington Post colleague Nick Anderson wrote in this article about the reopening of colleges: “Campuses are almost ideal venues for viral transmission, with students packed into dormitories, apartment suites, cafeterias and lecture halls. They live, eat, study and party together. Keeping a social distance will be challenging for even the most conscientious students, faculty and staff.”
Some students and faculty are glad to be returning to campus.
Boston University, among those schools bringing students back, quoted some students saying they want to be on campus this fall. In BU Today, student Henry Bojanowski said: “I hope many students choose to return to campus in the fall, as I believe not only is it better to learn in an environment designed for learning, but I also believe we are getting more for our money’s worth. Additionally, I think many people would benefit from a more social environment like the BU campus, since the vast majority of us have been socially distancing for quite a while.”
But there are some strong concerns in other places about the health consequences of reopening, and some faculty members have been speaking out.
Among the first institutions of higher education to announce an in-person return was Purdue University, with President Mitch Daniel, a former Republican governor of Indiana who recently wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post saying it would be “anti-scientific” and “an unacceptable breach of duty” not to reopen. He wrote in part:
Forty-five thousand young people — the biggest student population we’ve ever had — are telling us they want to be here this fall. To tell them, “Sorry, we are too incompetent or too fearful to figure out how to protect your elders, so you have to disrupt your education,” would be a gross disservice to them and a default of our responsibility.
And he wasn’t especially kind when the plan was criticized by a faculty member. Alice Pawley, a professor in Purdue’s School of Engineering Education, was quoted recently by a CNN host who read from a previous report. She said, “I don’t want to think about face-to-face teaching the hordes of students I usually teach until there is a vaccine.” Daniels responded to the same CNN host about the comment, saying the comment was “not from the most scientifically credible corner of our very STEM-oriented campus."
The American Society for Engineering Education wrote a letter to Daniels asking if he made the sarcastic comment to impugn Pawley, a tenured professor and award-winning researcher or to “cast doubt” on the value of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue, the nation’s first. Daniels sent a letter in response, saying he responded to make sure a national audience did not think that her concerns represented a majority of the faculty. He called it “an honest disagreement.”
Daniels declined to comment. Pawley, asked to comment about the episode, said she would not discuss her personal feelings but would comment as president of Purdue’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors about plans to reopen the campus. In an email, she continued to take issue with some of Purdue’s plans to reopen, writing:
First, our campus never “closed.” On the contrary, throughout the spring semester, faculty and other instructors were teaching students (at Purdue, without even an extended spring break), faculty were overseeing graduate student milestones, staff were responding to students in crisis, or advising undergrads for registration in the fall, or continuing to meet the usual deadlines of the university that didn’t let up (even though the vast majority were working from home, some of us with kids, in a pandemic). Countless others were supporting other aspects of Purdue’s Land Grant mission of teaching, research and service in myriad ways. We were never shut down. This work will continue in the fall, whether we are co-located or not. Second, universities are investing lots of money in redesigning their built environments based on medical research to limit the spread of the virus, but with less consideration of educational research on how students best learn. We know we need to think about “Maslow before Bloom” (not my phrase) — that is, we need to meet students’ physiological needs for safety and wellbeing (Maslow’s Hierarchy) before they can learn (Bloom’s Taxonomy). When students are confronted with their instructor behind a Plexiglas shield, in a room built for 3 times the numbers of students, when everyone must wear a mask or face disciplinary consequences, when they are surrounded by reminders of danger, I wonder how much they will be learning. We need to be thinking about educational research too.This leads to my last point. It must be really difficult for university administrators to have to figure out university-wide policy decisions for a time of COVID-19 when the science is still being worked on, where the short and long-term morbidity (not just mortality) consequences on populations in their 20s are still being assessed. But it is even more difficult when they don’t necessarily know all the possible ways, across all possible disciplines, that instructors need to teach. Faculty need flexibility in how they design and implement their courses, so they can determine the best way for students to meet their courses’ educational objectives within the required safety measures necessitated by COVID-19. And that might mean faculty decide to hold their own classes online, even for residential students.
There was also dissension at the University of Colorado at Boulder after Chancellor Philip DiStefano late last month announced his “Road Map to Fall 2020,” which includes bringing students back to campus with classes starting Aug. 24, though it is also likely to include some remote learning.
DiStefano announced a range of steps the school would take to minimize risk (see his plan below) that would, he said, prioritize health and safety considerations required to minimize risk and enable an on-campus academic model that accommodates both in-person and remote learning."
That prompted more than 170 members of the faculty to write a letter expressing serious concerns about the plan. (See faculty letter below.) That faculty letter says in part:
We are faculty who are committed to in-person instruction as our cherished vocation. However, we believe that any plan for face-to-face classes in Fall 2020 puts our health and safety at risk and does not serve our educational mission or the vulnerable communities the Chancellor aims to protect: low-income, rural, and communities of color. We oppose the Chancellor’s Road Map to Fall 2020 on the grounds of public health, the grounds of quality education, and the grounds of equity.
Not long after that letter went public, the chancellor issued another message to students, faculty and staff, announcing a rash of covid-19 cases in the community, including a number of students who had attended parties and a protest rally. That wasn’t changing reopening plans, however, he said.
Andrea Dyrness, an associate professor of education who helped spearhead the faculty letter effort, said the new covid-19 cases underscores the concerns about what can happen when people are in close quarters.
Asked to comment, Assistant Vice Chancellor Candace Smith said in an email that school leaders know there will be some covid-19 cases on campus in the fall and that the reopening plans “assume as much and are intended to protect individuals from those who are infected in the classroom or the grocery store.” She said the health and safety of everyone campus has been “a primary factor” during planning for on-campus instruction in the fall, and that faculty and students were part of the decision-making process.
She also said: “We know that if we do not provide an option to open in the fall there are many individuals, particularly in underrepresented and economically disadvantaged communities, who will be unable to continue their education. To not offer our students this opportunity is contrary to our values.”
Here’s the first letter from the chancellor, on May 26:
Dear faculty, staff and students,Today, I am announcing how we are returning to campus this fall. It will be in a way that minimizes health and safety risks to faculty, staff, students and community members through our Road Map to Fall 2020 plan, which I am officially accepting from our Academic Year 2020-21 Planning Team today.Our Road Map to Fall 2020 calls for classes beginning as scheduled on Aug. 24 and finishing remotely after Thanksgiving break. It prioritizes health and safety considerations required to minimize risk and enable an on-campus academic model that accommodates both in-person and remote learning.This is a moment in which our imperatives to lead, innovate and impact humanity are coming together for the future of our university. All of us must embody our vision to be a leader in the humanitarian, social and technological challenges of the 21st century. Our success depends on all of us working together.Our challenge as a campus community is to ensure our mission endures. Serving the public good is more vital now than ever. Our ability to return our students, faculty and staff to campus will affect our ability to ensure educational opportunity. Some of the students who would be most disproportionately affected if we were to be fully remote are our first-generation, underrepresented, low-income and rural students.The Road Map to Fall 2020 details three major areas:* Creating a COVID-ready campus experience that minimizes health and safety risks to faculty, staff, students and community members.* Delivering flexible in-person and remote academic instruction that enables our mission and ensures equity and student success.* Aligning resources to support safety and academics.A COVID-19-Ready Campus ExperienceThe COVID-19-ready campus experience adapts operations based on changing local conditions and adherence to state, county and city guidance. To do so, it establishes four modes of campus operation that build upon the return to research pilot beginning this summer: remote (the current campus state), limited (limited physical presence on campus), expanded (fall 2020 in-person operations) and full (return to normal operations).These modes enable the university to ensure health and safety by notifying the campus community of any changes to operating status based on local COVID-19 conditions throughout the semester.Among the many mitigation measures outlined by CU Boulder’s plan are:* On-campus capability for COVID-19 testing of students, faculty and staff, both to continuously monitor for potential spread and to test individuals with symptoms.* Campus-based rapid response teams for tracking, notification and isolation of infected individuals.* Mandatory safety training for on-campus faculty and staff, as well as all students, that includes instruction on physical distancing, wearing of face coverings, hand hygiene and sanitation, and following public health orders on events and public gatherings.* A robust public health awareness and outreach program in collaboration with the Boulder Police Department, Boulder County Public Health and student leadership.* Updated conduct code and related policies to include compliance with COVID-19 public health requirements.* Reduce each person’s potential for infectious contacts by at least 55 percent by:-- Requiring masks for all students and employees.-- Reducing density of people from normal operations.-- Designating cohorts of students to reduce person-to-person interactions in classrooms and residence halls.-- Implementing building control measures, such as physical distancing in all campus classrooms and learning spaces.-- Greater sanitization measures, including ensuring surface hygiene.-- Residence hall space for quarantining and isolation.-- Continued remote work arrangements for many employees.-- Required risk mitigation plans for each unit seeking approval for personnel to return to campus.-- Return-to-work protocols.Academic InstructionThe academic instruction section of the plan aims for a high-quality academic experience for both undergraduate and graduate students. The plan supports the development of flexible options for an in-person academic experience while meeting the needs of students and faculty whose health requires them to teach and learn remotely. It also provides for environmental safety in classrooms and on campus through physical distancing, class schedule adjustments and other administrative controls.Key elements of the academic instruction section include:A regular 16-week semester term beginning on Aug. 24, with the option for faculty to offer some courses, as appropriate, in 8-week sessions during the overall semester.In-person classes through Wednesday, Nov. 25, with remote teaching after Thanksgiving to allow students to travel home and remain there until the spring semester begins.Implementing a first-year academic experience for all first-year students, including housing assignments and enrolling first-year students in classes with small cohort groups.Offering courses that provide classes in a variety of in-person, distance and hybrid formats.Reducing the density of students in classrooms through a suite of methods that includes splitting single classes into multiple sessions and utilizing larger spaces to provide appropriate social distancing.Extending class scheduling to use the entire day, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., to decrease student density on campus.Several avenues for supporting the success of returning students, graduate students and instruction.Resource AlignmentThe resource alignment section of the plan supports the required investments in health and safety protocols, technology, faculty and staff support, and student success and access. These include:* Investment in testing, masks, training, physical distancing supplies and public health awareness.* Investment in instructional technology to support student and teaching success.* Zero tuition increase (approved by the CU Board of Regents on May 19).* Waiving the Residential Academic Program fees for all first-year students in residence halls.* Employee support that addresses return-to-work guidance, childcare needs and accommodations for vulnerable populations.Implementing the planThe Road Map to Fall 2020 is the beginning of a return to campus, and our faculty and staff will implement our fall plans within these parameters. The plan establishes implementation teams for each of the three major sections of the plan, and those teams are already engaging campus units in next steps. The flexibility built into the plan also enables the campus to prepare for a variety of COVID-19 scenarios that could arise. I know you will have questions, and information will continue to be posted at colorado.edu/coronavirus. The road map emphasizes that the implementation process will be iterative, and that the campus will continue to update and improve the model based on feedback we receive from the campus community. Please stay tuned for information about virtual forums hosted by myself and other campus leaders.The pandemic is an opportunity to see what the university can do differently and better in the long run. In order for us to be successful, we need to work together. I want to thank the many campus experts who consulted and worked with the Academic Year 2020-21 Planning Team. The team took into account more than 1,500 points of input from students, faculty, staff, deans, executive leadership, parents, alumni and community members. Thank you to all of those who have and will continue to contribute to this process.Thank you for your flexibility and adaptability in these highly unusual times. The university has faced adversity throughout its history and has always come back stronger. I have no doubt it will do so this time.We are Buffs Together,
And here’s the letter from faculty members raising concerns about the chancellor’s message above.
Open letter to the Chancellor and Campus CommunityAs faculty members and graduate student instructors we are dismayed by the Chancellor’s recent announcement of a return to on-campus instruction in Fall 2020 and feel compelled to challenge his understanding of the public good, our educational mission, and equity for underrepresented and marginalized students. We are faculty who are committed to in-person instruction as our cherished vocation. However, we believe that any plan for face-to-face classes in Fall 2020 puts our health and safety at risk and does not serve our educational mission or the vulnerable communities the Chancellor aims to protect: low-income, rural, and communities of color. We oppose the Chancellor’s Road Map to Fall 2020 on the grounds of public health, the grounds of quality education, and the grounds of equity.1) The grounds of public health:Given what we know about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of the disease, we do not believe the campus risk mitigation measures of “symptom surveillance”, safety training, or hygiene will be sufficient to counter the risk of transmission. We also do not believe that a revised student code of conduct will be sufficient to alter students’ behavior in off-campus spaces which will be hot spots for virus transmission. In recent weeks we have seen student parties on the hill and along the Boulder Creek, defying public health guidelines and bringing us national media attention. This is not isolated or extreme behavior, but the behavior we can expect from significant portions of undergraduate students on our campus. No amount of on-campus risk mitigation measures can control students’ behavior off campus, which will ultimately bring the virus into our classrooms. Switching to remote instruction after Thanksgiving break will then send many students to home states and communities across the country, exponentially increasing additional risk in the transmission of the virus. Our campus will thus be directly implicated in the spread of the disease nationally, endangering the public good.Many experts predict a surge in infection rates in September or later in the fall. In this light, from a public health perspective, it is irresponsible to plan for in-person instruction, and to deny faculty the opportunity to properly plan for remote/online instruction.2) The grounds of quality education:We are being told that our educational mission requires us to provide in-person instruction, and that students resoundingly want and demand in-person instruction. We question both of these claims under the circumstances of COVID. The density minimizing campus risk mitigation guidelines (social distance, masks and shields, students unable to face each other, avoid loud talking, etc.) foreclose the kinds of interactions that make a meaningful and optimal classroom experience, while still putting faculty and students at risk of exposure. We question whether students would really want the kinds of in-person experiences that would result under these guidelines, and whether the students who were polled that wanted in-person classes a) understood what that means under these conditions (many of us faculty are only just now coming to understand it) and b) are representative of the diverse students on our campus. We also question whether students would want in-person classes knowing they can have none of the campus social experiences that are such a vital part of the residential campus life (parties, community building activities, sporting events, etc.). But ultimately, it is faculty who teach and faculty who have the expertise and are tasked with providing quality educational experiences. These kinds of in-person classes will most certainly not be that. Instead, we could be leveraging the creativity, technological expertise and vast resources of our community to plan quality remote and online learning experiences.3) The grounds of equity:The Chancellor’s announcement of the return to a “COVID-ready campus experience” states that “Some of the students who would be most disproportionately affected if we were to be fully remote are our first-generation, underrepresented, low-income and rural students.” It is disingenuous to invoke the concerns of equity to promote a plan that will so thoroughly endanger vulnerable communities. While we know the technological divide is real and that our students have unequal access to the tools they need to be successful online, we also know that low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by the virus, with higher rates of infection and death. Students from those communities are thus disproportionately at risk by in-person teaching. Many students have told us that they are afraid of bringing COVID to their vulnerable parents and grandparents. Furthermore, the health and safety concerns of underrepresented and first-generation faculty and students must also be foremost in any discussion of equity. While we will need to leverage our creativity and resources to address the technological divide that impacts our most vulnerable students, just as K-12 school districts across the country have had to do, we must do so while first protecting their health and safety.In sum, we categorically reject the claim that serving the public good, our educational mission, or the needs of equity require in-person teaching in the fall. Again, it must be said that we faculty (at least many of us) would also prefer in-person teaching under normal circumstances: it is our unique and cherished vocation. But we know that the demands of safety and quality education in these particular circumstances, at least for Fall 2020, require otherwise. If some students have not come to understand that, it is the responsibility of the leadership to tell them, to put public health first, and not to make false promises about a meaningful on-campus experience, when health and lives are on the line.
And here is a June 12 memo from the chancellor to faculty, students and staff, which announced 17 recent positive cases of covid-19 concerns in the community.
Dear faculty, staff and students:Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) today announced 17 recent positive cases [click.communications.cu.edu] of COVID-19 in our community, many involving CU Boulder students. According to disease investigators, some cases are related to parties that occurred in the University Hill area from May 25 to June 4. Other cases are related to a protest march in Boulder on June 5, the virus spreading among roommates, individuals who recently traveled and other reasons.First, we ask that any CU Boulder community members with connections to the identified events review guidance from BCPH. [click.communications.cu.edu] Students can utilize campus Medical Services at Wardenburg Health Center to get tested or contact their primary care physician. Services through Wardenburg Health Center are confidential.Second, these positive cases demonstrate the vital importance of every one of us following public health guidance. Noncompliance has serious consequences and places our entire community and our ability to deliver our educational mission at risk.Our university is doing its part to enable students to return to campus this fall. We will have testing. We will have contact tracing. We will have personal protective equipment. We are making our classrooms, facilities and residence halls as safe as possible. Our faculty and staff have been working around the clock to update our courses and instructional approaches to enable students safely back on campus.This concentration of cases could have likely been prevented if those involved — particularly those hosting and attending parties — had followed public health orders. We all need to live up to our responsibilities, as some students are putting their own health and their own and other students’ on-campus educational opportunities in jeopardy by engaging in behaviors that imperil the health and safety of our entire community. We are prioritizing the health and safety of our campus and the community. We will not stand idly by if students are unable or unwilling to meet their obligations. This includes educating students, referring those who may have violated public health orders and university policies to a student conduct process and working with local public health officials to ensure that our campus and community's health is not compromised by the actions of a few.We acknowledge the reality that living with COVID-19 means there will be positive cases, which is why we have a detailed plan [click.communications.cu.edu] to mitigate the risks. During March, April and May, our campus increased communications with students about why and how to comply with state, county and city orders. We will continue to step up these communications and other measures throughout the summer and fall, including:* Instructing campus community members that they must follow all public health orders, including strict limits for any public or private gatherings* Updating the Student Code of Conduct to reflect the necessity for behaviors that promote health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. This applies on and off campus and will include educational efforts and appropriate sanctions for non-compliance with public health orders.• Adopting mandatory training for students, faculty and staff that includes instruction on physical distancing, wearing face coverings, hand hygiene and sanitation.• Collaborating with BCPH, the City of Boulder and others to comprehensively address how a combination of increased public education and direct outreach, along with enforcement measures, can combine to influence the choices made in our community.• Working with students, faculty and staff who become infected or exposed to engage in contact tracing to prevent the further spread of the virus.This plan will only work and we will only be able to stay safe this summer and successfully return to campus this fall if every member of our community fully embraces their individual responsibilities to keep themselves and others healthy.We must all do our part to respect each other and keep each other safe. We must not endanger each other with behaviors that do not live up to the values of our Colorado Creed.CU Boulder will do its part. We ask each person in our community to do theirs.Phil DiStefanoChancellor
(Adding comment from University of Colorado at Boulder)