The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually Monday to discuss feedback from their July 8 town hall with University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and results from a fall semester instruction survey. After the town hall on Wednesday, faculty in the Senate Assembly met in virtual breakout groups to share their thoughts and questions. SACUA members led the discussions July 8 and reported main takeaways back to the body Monday. After each SACUA member shared their breakout group’s feedback, the meeting was moved to executive session and closed to the press.
Kentaro Toyama, professor of information and community information, began the meeting discussing results from the faculty survey.
30.63 percent of the 875 faculty surveyed said they were willing to teach in-person this fall with what they know about current conditions and fall instruction. 47.54 percent said they were not willing and 21.83 percent responded “other,” which Toyama said were “maybes” with conditions attached.
Toyama said he understood why his colleagues might be uncomfortable teaching in-person.
“For the people who are really concerned about in-person teaching, I mean, it’s potentially a life or death situation,” Toyama said. “And so I don't think this is something that, you know, there should be penalties attached to those who want to decline.”
85-90 percent of those surveyed said faculty members should be allowed to opt out of in-person teaching if they, a family member or a dependent is over 65 or has an underlying condition. About 60 percent of respondents supported exemptions for “being uncomfortable about teaching in person during a pandemic,” and about 40 percent for an unspecified preference.
Annalisa Manera, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, said a lack of details from the town hall amplified, rather than put to rest, concerns about the fall semester among faculty members. She said the University’s campus blueprint website, which accompanied the announcement of an in-residence semester, is mostly a reopening “commercial” to students.
“We realized we do not have any details,” Manera said. “Who is going to be tested? How are they going to do contact tracing? … Even if we police the student in class, what happens after the student gets out of class and they go back to their dorms? And so on and so on, and we have absolutely no details.”
Caitlin Finlayson, associate professor of English literature at UM-Dearborn, said that while faculty are used to dealing with behavioral issues, enforcement of health and safety measures such as mask wearing in the classroom will require more help from the University.
“We have to have a policy that we can point to as faculty and say, ‘This is the University policy and these are the consequences for not following it,’ rather than leaving it up to me to play the bad guy as the faculty member,” Finlayson said.
Ivo Dinov, professor of nursing, shared Finlayson’s grievances on holding instructors and staff in academic buildings responsible for enforcing these new protocols.
“As soon as you start talking about the enforcement of good practices, you're very directly putting — I hate to call them clients, but the students — against the faculty and everybody's scared of everybody else, and everybody’s kind of reporting if somebody showed up with a thin mask versus an N-95,” Dinov said.
Finlayson expressed concerns about the lack of available resources with the start of the fall semester a month and a half away. She said faculty can’t start recording online lectures in September once classes have already started.
“It’s too late and needs to start happening now,” Finlayson said. “And those resources need to be more available now. We had a technology call put out on Dearborn and we still haven't heard anything. It’s mid-July, and that was over a month ago. And nobody knows if they're getting their technology or when they’re getting their technology for recording things or not.”
Elena Gallo, associate professor of astronomy, stressed the demand for detail on what physical classrooms and surrounding spaces will look like. She said visuals of COVID-19-adapted classrooms provided to School of Public Health faculty include X’s for students to stand on while waiting outside classrooms and plexiglass between students and instructors.
“Things that are happening in the grocery stores, effectively,” Gallo said. “We’re not talking about science fiction, but something practical and reassuring.”
The SACUA members also expressed interest in seeing the financial projections that may drive the University’s decisions on the fall semester. Gallo added that while tenured faculty operate on the assumption that their jobs are safe, the financial threat the pandemic poses to higher education might lead them to approach demands of the University differently.
“When the universities (are) making these decisions, I think it will be actually helpful for faculty to understand the full breadth and severity of the financial repercussions — the projections, say, if we were to go fully online for two semesters, say, which is not that far-fetched, what then?” Gallo said. “Are we going to face 30 percent salary cuts? Are we going to face program closures?”
Allen Liu, associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, said his breakout group was concerned about proctoring online exams and recording politically or socially sensitive lectures that students could put on social media.
David Potter, professor of Greek and Roman history, said LSA faculty worried air circulation could be an issue in many academic buildings.
“The fact (is) that there’s only one opening window in the MLB,” Potter said. “Has the University given some thought to the fact that there are some buildings which are structurally probably not usable for teaching?”
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