Wednesday, September 8, 2021

In Return to Classroom, Universities and Professors Struggle with Covid

My division dean just sent out an announcement on this yesterday. How to handle? 

1. Notify sick student to stay the hell off campus. 

2. Reassure the lamebrains that you're not going to drop them from class.  

3. Make sure students are screened and cleared for classes at the check-in tables on-site.

4. Contact college administration to inform them of a cases. 

5. Maintain strict confidentiality. (Or else?) 

At the New York Times, "The Masked Professor vs. the Unmasked Student":

Matthew Boedy, an associate professor of rhetoric and composition, sent out a raw emotional appeal to his students at the University of North Georgia just before classes began: The Covid-19 Delta variant was rampaging through the state, filling up hospital beds. He would teach class in the equivalent of full body armor — vaccinated and masked.

So he was stunned in late August when more than two-thirds of the first-year students in his writing class did not take the hint and showed up unmasked.

It was impossible to tell who was vaccinated and who was not. “It isn’t a visual hellscape, like hospitals, it’s more of an emotional hellscape,” Dr. Boedy said.

North Georgia is not requiring its students to be vaccinated or masked this fall. And as in-person classes return at almost every university in the country, after almost a year and a half of emergency pivoting to online learning, many professors are finding teaching a nerve-racking experience.

The American College Health Association recommends vaccination requirements for all on-campus higher education students for the fall semester. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings, regardless of vaccine status, for indoor public spaces in areas where the rate of infection is high.

But this is not how it has worked out on more than a few campuses.

More than 1,000 colleges and universities have adopted vaccination requirements for at least some students and staff, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. In an indication of how political vaccination has become, the schools tend to be clustered in states that voted for President Biden in the last election.

But at some campuses, particularly in Republican-led states with high rates of contagion — like the state systems in Georgia, Texas and Florida — vaccination is optional and mask wearing, while recommended, cannot be enforced. Professors are told they can tell students that they are “strongly encouraged” or “expected” to put on masks, but cannot force students to do so. And teachers cannot ask students who have Covid-like symptoms to leave the classroom.

At least nine states — Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Tennessee — have banned or restricted school mask mandates. It is unclear, education officials say, whether all of these prohibitions apply to universities, but public universities depend on state funding.

Certainly, some professors are happy to go maskless. A smattering have resigned in protest over optional mask policies. Most, like Dr. Boedy, are soldiering on. But the level of fear is so high that even at universities that do require vaccination and masks, like Cornell and the University of Michigan, professors have signed petitions asking for the choice to return to online teaching.

“Morale is at an all-time low,” warns a petition at the University of Iowa.

Universities are caught between the demands of their faculty for greater safety precautions, and the fear of losing students, and the revenue they bring, if schools return to another year of online education.

“I think everybody agrees that the idea is to have people physically back in the classroom,” said Peter McDonough, general counsel for the American Council on Education, an organization of colleges and universities. “The turning on a dime to provide online education last year and the previous spring semester was only seen as temporary.”

For some faculty, the new year brings not a return to normal but a strong sense that things could go off the rails. In the first weeks of class, case counts have risen at schools including Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Arizona State, Liberty University, the University of Arkansas, the University of North Florida and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“It seems like a repeat,” said Michael Atzmon, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan. “On the one hand, we have the vaccine. On the other hand, we have Delta.”

Dr. Atzmon helped organize a petition asking the university to be more open to online teaching. It was signed by more than 700 faculty members and instructors.

In a response to the petition, Michigan’s president, Mark Schlissel, said on Thursday that, given the “stellar” rate of vaccination at the Ann Arbor campus (92 percent for students, 90 percent for faculty), the classroom was “perhaps the safest place to be” on campus.

Dr. Schlissel suggested that faculty would just have to get used to the idea that there would be Covid cases on campus. “A pandemic is unsettling, it’s unpredictable, and yes, it involves an unavoidable level of risk,” he said.

There are signs of defiance against state policies. The three big public universities in Arizona — University of Arizona, Arizona State and Northern Arizona University — are tiptoeing around the ban on masks and requiring them in class. If all students have to wear masks, university officials believe that they are obeying Gov. Doug Ducey’s order not to discriminate against students who choose not to be vaccinated.

“It’s kind of a cat-and-mouse game,” said Peter Lake, an education law professor at Stetson University...

For real, man.

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