Adjunct’s open letter questions campus reopening

Prior to the start of the upcoming fall semester, adjunct professor Vince Locke sent an open letter regarding his concerns about resuming face-to-face schooling to SVSU’s administrators.

“I am disturbed by the University’s ‘full steam ahead’ attitude to reopening the campus,” Locke said. “The reopening plan feels very profit-driven, and it’s ignoring common sense and safety. Decisions are being made at the administrative level that directly impact not just my job, but my life itself without my input.”

Locke said he voiced his concerns to his department chair as well as the president of the SVSU Faculty Association.

“Although they expressed sympathy, I felt that my concerns were being ignored,” he said. “I wrote the letter because I felt that I didn’t have any other alternative to make myself heard.”

Locke said he hoped his letter would lead administrators to changing their minds about reopening campus.

“I would like to see classes moved online instead of face-to-face,” he said. “After all, that is the plan for classes after Thanksgiving and that is the plan in case the state issues another lockdown order. So, there is absolutely no reason why classes can’t be moved online before the semester begins.”

He asked that faculty at least be allowed to choose how they hold their classes, as a “reasonable compromise.” However, requests to move classes online are not always granted.

“My schedule has not been set yet, but I’ve only been offered face-to-face classes,” he said. “I have requested an accommodation to have them moved online, but I was told that it probably will not happen.”

In his letter, Locke mentioned that colleges are notorious for spreading diseases. He said he does not believe the university is taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously enough.

“I think there is an attitude that, because college students aren’t as vulnerable to COVID-19, they don’t have to worry about it,” Locke said. “That attitude is shortsighted. No one knows the long-term effects of the disease.”

He added that students will not be the only ones affected by an outbreak on campus. Students may spread the virus to their families and others off-campus.

Schools should not be holding face-to-face classes until the virus is contained, Locke said.

“We can contain it, just as we contained Ebola, Zika, West Nile, Avian Flu and H1N1 in recent years,” Locke said. “All it takes is patience and the willingness to do it. Right now, the university leadership is not showing either of those things. We should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Deborah Huntley, the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said SVSU’s plans include the ability to make adjustments if they become necessary.

She said administrators have been paying close attention to state and federal guidelines and requirements for higher education.

“The university has been working since March to develop a plan that will both minimize the risks of COVID-19 transmission and offer a positive university experience for students,” Huntley said.  “We increased the proportion of online and hybrid classes and made modifications to classrooms and instruction to allow face-to-face classes in an environment that is consistent with safety protocols.”

The university has also spent the summer reducing classroom densities, implementing safety protocols and offering flexibility to students and faculty, she said.

“The university will work with adjunct faculty who experience disruptions in their teaching due to COVID-19,” she said. “This could include a shift to remote teaching, and, if necessary, we are prepared to pay out their full contract in the event that they cannot complete the assignment.”

Huntley said administrators have been collaborating with medical professionals from Covenant HealthCare and the Saginaw County Health Department.

“We have testing available on and near campus, and a team of contact tracers to facilitate rapid communication with anyone who has been exposed,” she said. “If a residential student tests positive, they will be asked to return home. If that is not possible, we have reserved a limited section of housing for isolation.”

Students, faculty or staff who are asked to isolate will access courses remotely.

According to Huntley SVSU is well prepared to meet the challenges facing students return to campus in the fall.

“We have worked hard to ensure, as best we can, a safe and positive experience for our students, faculty and staff,” she said.

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