Thursday, August 13, 2020

Professors Fear COVID-19 as College Campuses Reopen

I'm going to be 59 next month, and while I'm not afraid to teach in person, I'd prefer not to have to with classrooms full of sniffling mask-wearing students supposedly "socially-distanced" in neat, wide-spaced rows and columns.

And I've read of all the safety precautions, hand-washing stations inside the classroom, temperature checks, extra-aggressive cleaning and disinfecting of spaces and surfaces, etc. The truth is, the virus is not contained socially, around the country, and it's going to see a resurgence coming out of the school reopenings. Just look the photos from the Georgia high school, and now the outbreak there, and you can see what's likely to happen.

In any case, at LAT, "‘I can’t teach when I’m dead.’ Professors fear COVID-19 as college campuses open":
When masked students walk back into his Northern Arizona University lab room at the end of the month, Tad Theimer will face them from behind a Plexiglas face shield while holding an infrared thermometer to their foreheads. As they examine bat skulls under microscopes, the biology professor will open windows and doors, hoping to drive out exhaled aerosols that could spread coronavirus.

But as one of hundreds of professors who will be back on campus along with 20,000 students in one of the states hit worst by the pandemic, Theimer is also torn on whether to enter his classroom at all.

“I want to teach and it’s best done in person,” said Theimer, 62, who has been a professor on the Flagstaff campus for two decades. “I want businesses, which need our students, to survive in town. But if I see people not following health protocols at the university, I’m going remote and I’m not seeking any permission. They can fire me if they don’t like it.”

Campuses are taking on a patchwork of safety measures and shifting reopening plans this month as millions of students return to colleges and universities. Some, like Northern Arizona University, have already opened for a trial run of online classes before students show up in person. Others, like Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and Princeton University in New Jersey, have at the last minute nixed plans for reopening to opt for fully online fall semesters. Many California colleges and universities will be online only, with largely empty lecture halls, while the majority of schools in the nation plan to offer a hybrid of the options.

Absent federal guidance, many of the decisions result from growing pressure from professors like Theimer, who recently went public with a letter to his university president demanding that students be disinvited from campus. At several universities, including large public schools in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, teachers have resisted administrations that push to pack the classrooms and dorms that produce tuition and housing revenues. Many have resisted through unions or faculty associations.

Students have joined, too, like the dozens in Atlanta at the University of Georgia who joined faculty to stage a “die-in” in front of the president’s office this week with signs that said “R.I.P. campus safety” and “I can’t teach when I’m dead.” The campus requires first-year students to live in dorms for its Aug. 20 kickoff to the fall semester, which will take place partially on-campus.

It was a similar story at the City Colleges of Chicago, where faculty followed last week’s reopening by threatening to strike if they don’t see safety improvements.

“The whole situation is unprecedented,” said Irene Mulvey, a math professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut and president of the American Assn. of University Professors, a teachers’ union with hundreds of college chapters. “Professors know best what’s happening on the ground and they are in many cases pushing to have a say. And in the case of some university administrations, there seems to be a kind of magical thinking that people will behave perfectly in following every health measure and precaution during openings.”

Colleges have tried to reassure professors and students by staggering dorm move-in dates, painting arrows and social distancing dots in hallways, limiting classroom sizes, enforcing mask mandates and installing hand sanitizing stations across campuses. They’ve designated quarantine housing and some, like UC Berkeley, have the limited number of students living on campus take a coronavirus test within a day of arrival in addition to regularly scheduled tests teach month.

But with the average American campus having more than 6,000 undergraduates, many professors have said the safety precautions will be too hard to enforce, especially at schools where most students live in dorms and off-campus apartments...