I’ve spent too much time over these past weeks/months reading about the state of coronavirus/Covid-19’s spread in the U.S. Some areas/states/commumities have handled this wisely, though at tremendous economic cost, and seem to have brought themselves to some level of control over this pandemic’s spread. Other areas were too impatient–too overwhelmed by economic pressures and protests by people who simply will not think of the public health–and are now experiencing massive outbreaks. The daily numbers are beyond frightening. North Carolina is, like other states, experiencing a surge in case numbers.
We are, as a global community, absolutely in uncharted territory, even with history’s lessons from past pandemics. Countries who seemed to have brought things under control are now locking down again, as new outbreaks emerge. So many of the current surges are, it seems, emerging from the actions of younger folks, driven by their instincts to socialize and live a life of the risk-driven teenager’s perspective. I was no different at that age–likely much worse, in truth.
Like other businesses, universities across the country are handling the ‘return to classes’ with the same inconsistency as our country’s politicians. Public health issues are clear and undeniable. The cost of not bringing in student room & board fees, the potential cost of reducing tuition costs b/c everything’s taught online; these costs are just too much for institutions to bear, it seems.
Nonetheless, the California State University system made the decision, some time ago now, to shift completely online for the coming semester. For students and faculty, this means a lengthy period of adjusting to this reality, a lengthy period to properly prepare for this paradigm. They have no question about how they’ll teach an learn, and they can get to work creating the best situation possible.
Now, other schools are doing the same; Harvard, MIT, are the big names making this commitment, but there are many smaller institutions doing the same. With every day that passes without that shift being made, students and faculty are forced to plan for two scenarios–in person, remote–and the likelihood that a shift from one scene to another will happen mid-term.
At ECU, the Board of Trustees just shifted their regular meeting to a ‘virtual’ one, citing the state of the pandemic’s spread in the state, etc., as a concern that would keep them from coming together in person. This relatively small group finds it too risky to come together, yet they continue to insist that 30,000 students, 2,000 faculty, and thousands more staff should convene on campus on August 7. Who can see any sense in this? Surely it’s just a matter of days for the powers-that-be to taken sensible action.
I took the step today to request that my in-person courses be taught fully online. I dreaded the phone call, afraid of the resistance from my Director, the process of dealing with HR, the paperwork, documentation, etc. There are some horror stories out there (Chronicle of Higher Education) of faculty being denied such permission, even noting high-risk categories, child- and elder-care situations, etc., and ECU isn’t known for its ease in dealing with problems.
One phone call to the School of Music’s Director, a very easy, friendly exchange about our mutual concerns for the state of things…and it’s done. And i’m feeling some relief at the clarity of knowing all will be delivered online, and that my job will be to continue that preparatory focus. I’m certainly much more comfortable teaching in person, and would prefer to do so under normal conditions, but i’ll learn a lot through this process, and am looking forward to what’s ahead. One of the first steps will be to write a note to my students, and i’ll get to that this weekend.