- COVID-19: With the precipitous transition to online instruction in March, a number of faculty questions were forwarded to the Chapter. Here is a list of the issues followed by the Chapter’s response:
Issue 1: Communication about procedures and guidelines for transitioning to purely online instruction. A number of faculty expressed a desire for more frequent communications about administrative expectations for transitioning to online instruction during the earlier stage of the pandemic.
Response 1: A careful balance had to be struck between frequent communications and the need for accurate, stable information. At the start of this crisis, public health advisories were changing rapidly, as were state and federal guidelines for operating public and private organizations. The Chapter leadership has been in frequent communication with the administration since early March, and faculty concerns have been forwarded (anonymously, of course) and addressed in a way that emphasized the safety of IRSC employees, students and the public. In the interest of keeping the communication uniform, the Chapter decided not to send out its own updates alongside the messages from the administration, but the administrative messages have, in many instances, been informed by input from the Chapter.
Issue 2: Online instruction and academic freedom. Many of us have been required to move courses online that were not designed for that particular delivery method, and in some cases the live courses have QM versions already available through the Virtual Campus. Consequently, some faculty were concerned that they would not be able to use the materials they had developed this spring for Summer A (if, for example, they were required to teach the QM version instead), and others expressed concerns over the possible increase in student cheating and the need to change the assessments (and other aspects of QM courses) to assure instructional quality.
Response 2: In dialogue with the Chapter, the administration has affirmed that faculty members are free to change assessments and other content in their QM shells as needed, and that the work done this spring can be transferred to Summer A courses if those courses are offered with synchronous Collaborate sessions.
Issue 3: the adoption of Honorlock. Some faculty have expressed a desire to use alternatives to Honorlock for administering proctored exams; others feel that using this product as the sole mechanism for proctoring online exams violates the faculty’s academic freedom (as certain restrictions associated with the product are not conducive to proctoring certain types of assessments).
Response 3: The decision was made administratively to adopt Honorlock for proctoring the one required exam for online courses (which amounts to every course during the summer). This path was taken in an effort to maintain a consistent approach to meeting the SACSCOC requirement for verifying student identities in online classes. The Chapter has discussed with the administration the potential conflict between this expectation and another SACSCOC standard on academic freedom, arguing that a faculty preference for a platform such as Blackboard Collaborate (to proctor exams) is entirely consistent with the SACSCOC standard on verifying student identities. While the College is committed to the use of Honorlock for the one required proctored exams in Summer A, the administration has committed to the possibility of relaxing this restriction in subsequent semesters.
Issue 4: the return to face-to-face and hybrid classes. The Chapter has heard a number concerns about when and how the College will return to face-to-face classes (including hybrid courses). Some are suggesting that the fall semester should be totally online, others are recommending that the decision to teach on campus should be up to the individual, and yet others are advising that we “wait and see” how things look as the summer progresses.
Response 4: This is a complex issue on many levels. There are fiscal questions about the impact on enrollment of offering only online courses in the fall semester, and some faculty have expressed concerns over the possibility of layoffs. There are ethical considerations over how to balance faculty preference with public safety, since a personal choice to teach a hybrid class has implications for the safety and welfare of many others. Then there are questions of how to balance IRSC’s unique interests and needs with the state and federal guidelines for reopening the economy. These concerns, and others, make for an extraordinary managerial challenge and potentially worsen people’s already-heightened anxiety about the future.
There are a number of general points that should be considered here. First, the administration has stated that it is putting the safety and welfare of IRSC employees, students, and community members first, and there is no reason to think that this stance will change. Second, the Federal stimulus package is likely to bouey the College financially -- either by supporting students who might otherwise not enroll, or by providing money to support the operation of the college, or both. (The allotted amount in Federal funds for IRSC is in excess of 9.5 million dollars, half of which has been used to support our most financially challenged students.)* That said, an enrollment drop is not certain even if the College offers only online courses; historically, when the economy falters enrollment increases, and it is possible that students who had intended to leave the area for college in the fall may opt instead to stay closer to home. In other words, it is conceivable that there could be a bump in enrollment in the fall.
At present, the administration is planning for two scenarios: a limited reopening with some hybrid courses available to students, and the continued closure of the campus and purely online offerings (synchronous and asynchronous) in most areas. Under both scenarios, only those faculty in programs that require students to be physically present on campus would be expected to teach in person, and only in a manner consistent with CDC guidelines. Under the second scenario, additional faculty would be allowed to teach hybrid courses, based on their preference to do so.
Given the circumstances, this approach seems reasonable, as it is open-ended enough to allow the College to adapt to changing circumstances. But in any event, the Chapter will stay very much engaged in the conversation with the administration about how and when to reopen, and your questions and concerns will be addressed.
* The remainder of the funds has not yet been distributed to the College, but the paperwork has been filed and is currently being reviewed (it’s complicated).
- Other union matters...
Topic: Last November’s non-renewals. At the Chapter’s Special Meeting last December, attendees were informed of the manner in which four annual contract faculty were issued non-renewal notices (all of whom were continuing-contract eligible), and one who was given an additional (sixth) year -- a year in which he was expected to complete 18 graduate hours in another discipline as a condition of being considered for continuing contract. Two of these cases have been taken up by the Chapter (at the request of those affected), one as a formal grievance that is now headed to arbitration, and a second that has been addressed collaboratively with the administration. Arbitration is scheduled for June, and the Chapter is hopeful that it will prevail (despite the fact that the administration has hired a nationally renowned law firm that specializes in defending management in labor disputes). In the second case (the case of the sixth year), the Chapter has managed to reduce the expectations for renewal by working directly with Human Resources to clarify the Alternative Credentialing process and, thereby, awarding the faculty member a significant number of graduate credits in an alternative discipline. The Chapter has also helped expedite the process of getting some of this person’s classes onto a Guided Pathway that will likely address the enrollment problem that initially gave rise to the administration’s decision to require additional training.
Topic: The Presidential Search The Chapter will update the blog on IRSC’s presidential search next week..
We will keep you updated as the conversation with the administration progresses. Please continue to reach out with questions, concerns and suggestions.
Bruce W. Fraser
AAUP Chapter President