• Joel Brown

    Staff Writer

    Joel Brown

    Joel Brown is a staff writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. He’s written more than 700 stories for the Boston Globe and has also written for the Boston Herald and the Greenfield Recorder. Profile

Comments & Discussion

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There are 17 comments on BU Academic Calendar for Fall Semester Will Not Change

  1. This is an insane policy, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Even if students do not travel out of state, Thanksgiving is a time when people gather together. Students will leave campus, have meals with their extended families, and then travel back to campus. BU is actively encouraging students to engage in behaviors that are PROVEN to promote the spread of coronavirus. It even sounds like they will encourage students to gather together on campus during the break! Meanwhile, unless a miracle happens and we see a dramatic decrease in cases, I will almost certainly be eating Thanksgiving dinner physically alone (but with family via Zoom), because I believe in practicing social distancing until conditions improve.

    Shame on the administrators! I am a faculty member who is already very concerned about teaching in person this fall (which I am being forced to do or lose my job since I am relatively young and healthy). But I REFUSE to teach in-person after Thanksgiving until students can be tested multiple times. Go ahead and try to fire me for that.

    Parents and students: please know that many, many faculty and staff (including graduate students who teach) do not support what the administration is doing. Know that we are scared and fear for our jobs if we refuse to go along with these ridiculous plans. These plans are not being made in the best interest of students — BU is only making decisions that will save them the most money. BU consistently refuses to answer our questions as to what change in conditions would cause them to change their mind. It’s clear that it’s full-steam ahead, no matter what.

    One more note: I wouldn’t be surprised if a BU administrator or BU Today staffer replies to this comment and says that “safety is their number one priority” (something we’ve heard a lot over the past few months). If safety were their number one priority we would not be having in-person classes at all. Full stop. Stop lying to us. We see through it, and we are mad. This is the last straw — I will be looking for a new job at a school that values my life.

    1. Hi professor! I actually agree with you that this is a dumb move on behalf of the administration, and I’m disappointed in the lack of responsibility it shows. A normal schedule means a normal semester, but that’s clearly not the case here. I would like the administration to re-think this decision.

      However, I have to disagree with a couple of the things which you said. First of all, I am a student paying an absurdly large amount of money to go to BU, and my decision to do that is what pays for your salary. In return, you have agreed to teach me, mentor me, and help me fulfill my education. If by chance you don’t hold up your side of the bargain, then this contract that we have agreed to is useless, and I will not be paying for the rest of your salary. Full stop.

      Second of all, I understand your concern over health and safety. But do you not think that the students have the same concern? You at least get to leave campus and go home. We students will be on guard 24/7, which not only adds to the already high pressure of being a student at a place like BU. Despite this, we still choose to come back. Why? Because we know that online classes are not the same, and we still have a driving passion to pursue an education. Choosing to come back is a risk and a large one, but not choosing to come back presents an even larger and uncertain risk.

      If you are relatively young and healthy, then you probably have about as much to worry about as we do. And that is still a lot. But please don’t make this about safety. If you truly cared about safety, then you would realize that more students will suffer and die from depression and anxiety during the semester than from COIVD.

      I ask you to please think critically about this issue.

      1. Dear Tuition Paying Student,

        Your frustration about tuition and other aspects of returning to campus should be directed at the BU administration, not at faculty and staff. And I believe that BU has led you (probably not intentionally) to believe that the choice students are making this fall is between what you had last spring (a rushed, emergency transition to remote learning over the course of only a few days during the beginning of a pandemic) vs. a somewhat normal in-person learning experience that you’ve done before and are used to. You’re right — online learning isn’t as good as normal in-person teaching. But that is not what LfA is, and that is not what campus will be like this fall. LfA is mode of teaching with extremely little research behind it, and the schools that have used it effectively have done so with technology that BU is not purchasing (for example, enough screens in a classroom so that every remote student can be seen by the entire class).

        Under LfA, if you are taking a lecture class, you will probably only physically be in lecture one time a week, or maybe every other week due to physical distancing requirements. The rest of the time you’ll be on Zoom in your room. Unlike the spring, where you could see your professor’s face through Zoom, your professor will be wearing a mask at all times. She may be hard to understand because of the mask. Students may have to yell when they ask questions. Her attention will be split between the remote and in person students, both of whom will feel ignored at times. The professor won’t be able to move around the room. You won’t be able to see her facial expressions, and she can’t see yours. So it will be harder for her to know if she’s connecting with students. Most tests and quizzes will probably be done online, because not all students can be in a room together.

        Smaller, discussion-based classes and active learning will be even more awkward. Students will be 6 feet apart. How do you do meaningful group work? How will Zoom students see all the in-class students? How can the professor attend to both groups at the same time while simultaneously teaching (it’s like teaching two discussion classes at once)? How can you have a meaningful full class discussion if everyone’s not in the same room? In a lab class, how is a teaching fellow supposed to show a student how a procedure is done if they’re not supposed to be standing next to the student? In online Zoom discussions, the professor can see all students (with no masks) at the same time. She can form breakout rooms for group work. Students can share screens. The difference with online learning this fall would be that we actually have time to prepare.

        Office hours and study sessions will most likely be through Zoom for all students, as most faculty do not have enough space in their offices to allow for social distancing. Hallways and stairs on campus are already set up to be one-way. Those benches that students sit on between classes in the CAS hallway are marked off with caution tape. Students will have to sit alone at dining halls or grab food and go eat elsewhere (outside or in their rooms). Social activities and clubs will be highly restricted. All the social distancing expectations do not vanish once students arrive on campus. Yes, you can have close contact with small groups of roommates/floormates/etc. But this will not be a normal semester on campus, and BU is not a place where you can escape all the social distancing that you’ve been doing at home.

        And I’m not saying all of this to be a Debbie Downer. I just want students to be coming in with realistic expectations. The point is that normal teaching and learning is impossible right now. It can’t be done until the virus is under control. But for almost all classes at BU, online learning IS possible and CAN be done safely. I want to choose that option for my classes. Not just because I value my own health and safety and that of my students and community, but because I honestly think I can teach my classes better that way. I DO think BU should reduce tuition this semester, and I would have absolutely taken a pay cut if that were required. But I was never consulted on this or given a choice.

        I understand that for many students coming to campus this fall is the best option for them. They may have safety issues at home, or have limited access to technology, or have no other place to live. I actually have no objection to students returning to campus and dorms (with proper safety protocols in place). But you missed a key thing here: students have a choice about whether those risks are worth it to them and their families. Many faculty and staff have no choice, other than having to quit our jobs during a pandemic.

        Lastly, do you think that faculty and staff are not also suffering from anxiety and depression during a global pandemic? Many faculty will be experiencing anxiety when they teach in person this fall — they’ll just be trying to hide it as best they can.

        1. This echoes my sentiments as an instructor almost exactly: If I were convinced that the hybrid model envisioned by TfA would lead to a measurably better educational experience for my students than online-only instruction, I would have far fewer qualms about showing up in-person, despite the risks. (I would still argue that, as a matter of ethical principle, it should be up to individual instructors to decide for themselves and that no one should be coerced into taking on unnecessary physical risk as a condition of their employment.) As someone who is young and healthy, without many additional risk factors, I would be willing to weigh the benefits to my students against my personal safety, as TPS suggests.

          What we are now faced with, however, is a scenario where students will face severe barriers imposed by both the physical and online components of the course structure, and where almost all the proven benefits of face-to-face instruction will be negated by the demands of classroom dedensification. Those students who are on campus will still find themselves forced to attend many classes remotely from their dorm rooms due to occupancy restrictions, while even students who are able to enter the classroom for any given session will still have to perform most exercises and activities online so as to be able to engage with the majority of their classmates.

          What exactly is it that we — both students and faculty — are being asked to risk our physical and mental health for? I fear that the payoff will be a hybrid learning experience that is simply the worst of both worlds.

        2. Questrom is deploying extra screens and cameras in the classrooms so in-person and remote participants see each other, and so that the instructor can move around.
          Doing LfA right!

      2. Dear Tuition Paying Student,

        I am quite honestly taken aback by your response. Your assertion that you “will not be paying for the rest of [teachers’] salary” if you are not taught in person reeks of entitlement and is completely disrespectful to the professor you responded to. Please remember that profs and TFs are people too, and respectfully refrain from lording your high tuition (which is not set by teachers) over them. We are already feeling powerless to protect their lives and livelihoods under the dangerous decisions of the administration.

        Your claims that choosing not to come back “presents an even larger and uncertain risk” and that “more students will suffer and die from depression and anxiety” are completely unfounded and insensitive. Professors and TFs, as mentioned by the prof here, are also experiencing unprecedented anxiety and depression, particularly as we are being forced to choose between our jobs and our personal health and safety so that BU can offer the LfA program with a smile. It is worth mentioning that not all profs and TFs are “young and healthy”–there are older profs, there are profs and TFs with underlying health conditions, not to mention family members at home that may fall into these risk categories. Even if they were, increasing evidence is showing that even “young and healthy” COVID patients are experiencing severe symptoms, including neurological and other changes that can outlast initial infection for weeks (and possibly longer, or permanently).

        And let’s be clear about one other important point: some of us have already had friends and family get sick or die from the virus. We have had to mourn their losses alone and have been unable to visit them or attend their funerals. So yes, this is absolutely about safety.

        So, just as you’ve invited the prof to think critically about this issue, I strongly urge you to do the same. I understand undergrads (particularly freshman) are excited to begin college life. I am sympathetic that this has thrown a wrench in the mix in what should be an exciting moment in your lives. But this isn’t the fault of your would-be teachers. It isn’t BU’s fault either. But there is fault in how the administration is responding, and your anger should be directed to them rather than at teachers.

  2. Yet another irresponsible decision made by BU administration. Seems to be another decision made surrounding finances and not the actual health and safety of the students, faculty, and staff. Very disappointing.

  3. BU will regret having on campus classes come November when the second wave of this virus emerges. I can see them shifting all classes online towards the end of the Fall semester, although BU was one of the last schools around Boston to announce last Spring that it was going online so I expect their response to be just as bungled this time around. Make no mistake this decision is solely based on revenue. The administration knows there will be a huge drop in the foreign students that pay full sticker price if they shifted to online only classes. Plus all of the other students that would take a few semesters off to virtually attend a community college and transfer those credits back into BU would impact their finances as well. Remember BU has an almost $100 million dollar budget shortfall that was caused by shifting learning online last Spring and are now looking to axe 250 faculty members, they’re not trying to lose that type of income again and will most definitely risk your life and the lives of all its students and faculty in order to keep that cash machine going.

  4. I actually think this decision makes a lot of sense. Students who wish to travel home for Thanksgiving can stay home and complete their courses remotes, while the many students who cannot travel home can stay and still get value from the campus experience.

    Note that if students travel home for Thanksgiving to an unsafe state, they will be required to quarantine upon their return until a negative test is produced, so the campus is still relatively protected.

    1. You mentioned that “they will be required to quarantine”. But how? Who can actually ensure the quarantine? Does anyone know who leaves and who stays? Can anyone tell from the appearance that someone just traveled back to another state/country during Thanksgiving? Can anyone at all prevent a student returning from travel after Thanksgiving from going out to classrooms/library/gym/grocery stores/restaurants/bars/parties? BU can’t. The city can’t. MA can’t. Nobody can.

      We don’t even have a definition for “quarantine”. Does it mean staying in the dorm room? Or staying in the building? Or just reducing the frequency of going out? Even using the most strict definition, he/she could easily infect thousands of people on one’s way back from the airport. This is putting the whole Boston in danger.

      Let’s be honest. We all know that a lot of people dying because of BU’s policy is not a “if” problem, but a “when” problem. My only positive guess about this “continue-the-semester-after-Thanksgiving” decision is that the admin knows BU will have to be entirely closed days after Sep 2, so they won’t even bother to make changes to the rest of the semester.

  5. First, how will the university verify and enforce this Thanksgiving travel restriction? What are the forcing functions? Are students required to submit their travel plans to the university? Sure you ask the right questions about travel and test students, but “strongly encourage” doesn’t seem to be suitable plan to prevent students from going home and returning to campus. I might have missed it but, what are the consequences for the students who travel, return to campus, and test positive? This policy needs to be clearly articulated and explained to the students; furthermore, all students must sign an agreement demonstrating that they understand and will adhere to school policy and will face consequences for failing to follow school policy.

    Second, read the post by BU FACULTY MEMBER JULY 30, 2020 AT 8:55 AM for details on LfA. It is eye opening.

    Third, it is apparent that these decisions are based on revenue. BU has put money over the well-being of students and faculty/staff. This is a business before it is a learning institution; they will definitely risk the lives and well-being of its students and faculty/staff to make and keep money. This also means that tuition will not be reduced to reflect remote learning despite the known inadequacies of online/remote learning.

    Fourth, Massachusetts has done a fairly decent job at slowing the spread COVID. Unfortunately, the decision and plan outlined here will help the anticipated second wave. I predict the university will transition toward online/remote classes for Spring 2021. They will maintain their sorry, recycled excuses and lines. When it transitions, I hope the university has a plan.

    Finally, I am shocked and disappointed that BU has decided to honor Christopher Columbus this year. Why? Also, why is Columbus Day given as a day off, but not Veterans Day, which is also a federal holiday? IIRC, Pres. Brown justified this decision by saying that he is adhering to state policy (MA officially celebrates Columbus Day). This is cowardice. Several years ago, Brown University in Rhode Island opted not to honor Columbus even though their state celebrated/celebrates Columbus Day. The university designated that day Indigenous People’s Day, which contradicts state calendar and policy. Several Massachusetts cities and towns long decided to honor indigenous people (Indigenous Peoples Day) over Columbus. Clearly, Pres. Brown’s excuse is not valid. It should have been removed long ago, but given the political and societal changes occurring in 2020, I’d expect BU to be at the forefront of this change. Yes, the “wind of change is blowing,” yet BU has stubbornly maintained their ignorant stance.

  6. Thankful B.U is standing strong and honoring the basic human need for connection and learning . The largest odd being faced right now is collective fear. Isolation is a recipe for death amongst all living organisms. Knowledge and wisdom about prevention is being censored and accessibility to known and effective treatments being denied clearance for use. Human connection being the #1 remedy now being denied. As a nurse I know first hand that humans die without touch or connection or even worst can be kept alive but denied life’s vitality ( a life full of fear). There are doctors and scientists that know this…. Those of you afraid stop looking to media as your guide. Take the time you. we, deserve to inform yourself another way. I could say so much more yet your choice is enough as an offer of hope.

    1. Will “human connection” guarantee the safety of BU staff, faculty, and students? As a facilities staff member I have witnessed firsthand coworkers fall ill from working on campus through the pandemic. One custodian was on a ventilator for 3 months. Entire shifts have been quarantined for weeks. As students return and refuse to follow basic safety guidelines such as social distancing and wearing masks (which I already am seeing in alarming numbers on campus), lives are being put at risk. Will holding hands and hugging each other make you feel better when the hundreds of staff and faculty that fall into the high risk category are recklessly exposed to the virus for the sake of BU bringing in tuition and housing dollars? It’s not living a “life full of fear” to approach a global pandemic with common sense and responsibility. Yes, one day we will be able to go back to normal, but not until we can ensure the safety of everyone who lives and works on campus. If we continue going forward with this insane plan, the potential deaths of our coworkers will be on the hands of the university.

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