At Town Hall, President Brown Urges BU Community to Get Vaccinated, Acknowledges Anxiety about Return to Work
At Town Hall, President Brown Urges BU Community to Get Vaccinated, Acknowledges Anxiety about Return to Work
“Zooming from the kitchen or bedroom is not a substitute for our students being in our classrooms, laboratories, and studios”
Questions about masks, vaccines, childcare, parking and commuting, classroom teaching, summer vacations, and what the future of work at Boston University will look like in a post-pandemic world all surfaced on Wednesday morning in a wide-ranging town hall webinar for BU faculty and staff, led by BU President Robert A. Brown and other University leaders.
(See the full webinar here, and a specific list of frequently asked questions and answers about the return to campus here).
Brown said in his opening remarks, in a comment that seemed aimed at acknowledging the voices of many, “I know there is considerable anxiety about returning to campus.” And he said that he knows there are some who question why returning to work in person is so important if working from home has been successful. “We learned a lot this year,” he said. “In terms of education, we learned that Zooming from the kitchen or bedroom is not a substitute for our students being in our classrooms, laboratories, and studios, to study and live together. We are a residential research community, and the key to our success is the intensely collaborative environment created by having everyone together.”
During more than an hour of questions and answers from faculty and staff, three issues surfaced repeatedly: how normally will a campus with both vaccinated and unvaccinated people function? Will faculty and staff be able to have significant work flexibility over the summer, even as campus repopulation at 50 percent capacity begins June 14; and will there be any signs of Zoom and remote teaching once fall classes begin?
The answers to those and other questions came from Brown, as well as from Jean Morrison, provost and chief academic officer, Judy Platt, Student Health Services director, and Gary Nicksa, vice president for operations. Among the takeaways: campus life will largely resemble normalcy before COVID-19 emerged in spring 2020, but masks will likely still be required in most indoor settings; to a lesser degree, testing for the coronavirus will still be required; managers should be flexible with employees over the summer, as they deal with issues of summer camp uncertainty, childcare, elder care, and previously planned getaways; and remote instruction will disappear come fall, except for about 30 graduate-only programs.
Brown said that he expects the Committee on the Future of Staff Work he formed this spring to look at the permanent culture of work at BU will bring him recommendations this summer and that decisions about whether flexibility on working from home can remain a part of BU’s environment are expected by late August. (He also said he will hold another Town Hall in August, when he is ready to discuss the committee’s recommendations.)
One message from both Brown and Platt was repeated time and again: “Please get vaccinated.” Brown urged the more than 2,200 employees who logged in to the event to do so, and to “please load your vaccination status into our system, so we can have an accurate count of our vaccination rate.” The deadline for uploading vaccine status plans is Friday, June 4.
The University is mandating that students be vaccinated before arriving for the fall semester, but has so far not required it for faculty and staff, a question that was raised during the 90-minute- event. “We do not make this decision lightly,” Brown said.
“We have a long history of requiring vaccination for students, to manage illness,” Platt said. While Brown added that he is not prepared, yet, to require vaccination for faculty and staff, that could change if the percentage of those who do not get inoculated against the coronavirus is lower than hoped for.
In explaining the timing of the campus repopulation, Brown said the fall semester actually begins in July, with the arrival of medical and dental students on the Medical Campus, followed by some Charles River Campus students. By August, “We will need to be ready for the first groups of undergraduate and graduate students heading for a very full fall semester,” he said. “The goal is to be comfortable by then.”
Among other key points raised during the webinar:
- Vaccinated and unvaccinated workers will not be treated differently or have different sets of rules to work under. “But I believe unvaccinated people are putting themselves at higher risk,” Brown said.
- A number of School of Medicine classes will begin on July 1 under normal circumstances, without social distance requirements, and at the discretion of the dean.
- Employees in the Category 4 testing group will likely move to Category 1 or 2 as they return to campus this summer, but the plan is to end testing categories by the fall. Platt said it will remain critical for BU healthcare staff to monitor anyone who reports COVID symptoms, and for them to continue filling out attestation forms in order to get test results back quicker.
- The reason masks will still remain a requirement for most indoor situations is that they work, Platt said. “Our own BU data, with 2,000 cases, showed that masking was extremely effective. You are much more likely to test positive if you had an unmasked interaction.” People in private offices won’t have to wear masks, until someone else enters the office or if they walk out into common areas.
- During the summer, Brown said, supervisors should be very mindful of childcare and elder care issues. “We realize that’s a stress and have asked managers to be sensitive,” he said. But come fall, he added, the expectation is that childcare systems will be fully available and full-time employment will be focused on the job, not on childcare.
- When asked how BU can remain competitive in a job market that is gravitating toward increasing remote flexibility: “Our plan is to get the report of the committee and decide what we are going to do,” Brown said. “We will be thoughtful, and not reactionary.”
- People who have workplace adjustments approved through August 16 will keep those adjusted schedules through that date.
- Faculty should no longer use Zoom in the fall in cases of illness or other disruptions, and should return to pre-COVID planning, by either rescheduling the class or having a colleague teach it. “Our students come to the University for in-person interaction,” Morrison said.
- New parking technology will allow for an $8 daily rate at Charles River Campus lots and allow drivers to leave during the day for meetings, appointments, or other reasons, and return without incurring any additional charge, because their license plate will be recorded.
- FitRec is open for faculty and staff, but reservations are still required. The expectation is that normal operations will resume for everyone in the fall.
- The hiring freeze has been lifted and approximately 600 positions are already posted.
- Even though teaching by Zoom will largely disappear, Brown said, other aspects of campus life will still benefit from it, such as large campus organizations that find it useful for meetings.
- “Some level of campus COVID testing will continue in the fall,” he said, but he added that it’s not clear how much because of uncertainty around how the disease progresses after vaccination.
- For people who made plans to be away from their home this summer and work remotely, Brown said they should talk with their manager and cases will be handled individually. “At some point,” he said, “people have to come back.”
- The fall Move-in for students will largely resemble a pre-COVID Move-in experience, although some students will arrive early to receive their COVID vaccines.
- Employees who would like a portable HEPA air filtration unit can request them through their manager and the cost will be covered by BU, not by individual departments.
President Brown’s remarks at this morning’s town hall clearly signaled his priority is having an arbitrary repopulation of staff on campus starting August 1st. At this point, it seems like this is more a need for the President and Provost to exert some sort of control over staff, rather than to address an actual business need. President Brown’s comments were insensitive and out of touch at times – expressing surprise that there could possibly a place in the world without internet access (clearly he isn’t a camper…clearly he’s never visited family in a rural location where internet access is sparse), expressing confusion that staff may have made plans to be somewhere else this summer based on the original August 16th date, making comments about people shifting from their full time job being child care to being back on campus (if you are a parent, child care is always your full time job – I don’t know anyone who drops their kid off and doesn’t have to think about them while at work). Most concerning was his lack of commitment to be transparent with the results of the remote work survey, citing a concern that it could delay the recommendation to take the time to make it available to staff.
Many staff of the University are also alums. I see from other comments on this article that I am not the only one who is concerned for the future of my alma mater, as the decisions being made by the President and Provost continue to alienate talented staff – many of whom have left or are planning on leaving the University for workplaces that recognize the humanity of their employees. Losing talent hurts the University, full stop.
When asked the business need of going into campus for a back-end job, the president described that “things need to be equitable.” It is important to remember that equitable is not the same thing as equal. People who have children or take care of elders have different strains, and as we’ve seen, these strains disproportionally impact women and people of color. It is totally oblivious of market conditions to suggest that it’s easy to find child care for the Fall with only receiving notice by the end of August of what remote work allowance will be. Parents have been expected to be everything during this pandemic – full time employees, (and if we were lucky enough to keep our jobs beyond the layoffs, with increased workloads that terminated colleagues or vacant positions left behind), and for long stretches also full-time caretakers and in many cases tutors. We have adjusted to lives where we actually get to see our children beyond just getting them ready for school/daycare, feeding them hastily and putting them to bed. To suggest a simple “on” switch where everyone is expected to be on campus undermines the trauma of what this year has been to so many families, where the one saving grace has been more time with our loved ones and less time in commutes. Getting more answers by end of August is too late to have meaningful impact on September planning for those of us who need to coordinate child care, and simply planning for “business as usual” in the interim will leave the most vulnerable employees behind.
I completely agree it is unfeasible to expect employees to go back to “normal” without giving thought to the emotional trauma of the past year.
There was so much focus on the importance of vaccination, but a large part of the population (children) are still unable to be vaccinated. President Brown’s statement that “the expectation is that childcare systems will be fully available and full-time employment will be focused on the job, not on childcare” came off as extremely tone-deaf and hypocritical. How can you, on the one hand, insist that vaccination is essential for the safety of the community, but on the other hand, give no thought to employees with small children who may be hesitant to send them to childcare facilities before they are able to be vaccinated? Trials for children as young as 6 months have already begun, so it may only be a matter of a few months of continued flexibility. As a parent of a child under one, this would make a huge difference in my peace of mind.
I couldn’t agree with the “concerned Alumni”‘s comments more. A lot of “we do not know that for certain at this time” responses for a meeting like this. I got the sense they are going to go back to a place where remote work is no longer an option or is a very minimal “perk” reserved for executive staff only or maybe one day a week on a manager oversight level. I feel like the a lot of the guidance having to wait for the the “remote work committee” which in turn has no deadline to offer its findings is just a stall tactic to tell everyone at the last minute the remote work was just a necessity of the pandemic so employees stick around through the return to campus and are not looking for other more flexible means of employment through the end of summer. I talked with two other colleagues yesterday who shared this opinion, but when I met with our individual college leadership later in the day, they sung praise at President Brown and the response of university leadership in this meeting, which only scares me more and solidifies my concerns.
Get your resumes in order. They do not care about us
I am also a BU alum (two degrees) and member of the staff. I empathize with your position but would like to add another consideration.
The President and Provost have to consider all the consequences of allowing some employees to work-from-home/work remotely while others have no choice but to report to campus.
I am one of those individuals who works directly with students and has been back on campus, 5 days/week, since AUGUST of last year. While a significant chunk of the staff has been allowed to remain home, thereby not commuting and incurring those costs (e.g. parking, gas), I and others continue to come to our office, every day, so our students won’t be alone on the campus. I frankly am tired of getting on Zoom meetings from my office with colleagues who are out for a walk, playing with their kids, or doing the laundry at the same time. I’m not accusing you of this, but I’ve seen it time and again and it’s rather unfair to those on campus and borderline unprofessional.
While I share your fear of BU losing talented employees, my “why” is different from yours. If the President + Provost are to approve remote/flex work for some employees, then I think those who have no choice but to work on campus should either be compensated more OR not be forced to fork over roughly $200/month to park at their place of work.
I wonder if you’d agree with that proposition in the name of fairness?
Well Said Terrier – My entire office staff has been on campus since March 2020 (5 days a week). The work just piled on to accommodate other departments we deal with regularly that stayed remote.
Treating people the exact same regardless of circumstance is not the same as treating people fairly. Some jobs can be done remotely. Others cannot. Forcing another employee to come in just because you have a miserable commute or have to pay for parking won’t make your situation better. Also, I would guess that the people who haven’t behaved professionally while working from home are generally the same people who go missing for long periods when they are ‘in the office’ as well, frequently take care of personal business at their desks, etc. Location doesn’t dictate work ethic.
If jobs allowing remote work are more desirable and employers have a had time finding and retaining workers for onsite positions, they will have to find ways to make onsite positions more attractive. They can and should be able to do this in a way that benefits onsite workers without punishing those that can work remotely.
Low Morale: I am in agreement with you. I understand there are jobs at the university that can be done remotely, and I don’t object to folks being allowed to work in this fashion.
I also agree that work ethic is not tied to location, but I am of the opinion that remote work has brought out the worse in those who were already lax.
My point is precisely your final statement: BU needs to retain onsite workers and frankly keep them happy as the nature of work changes across industries to favor WFH.
I chose to work with students and own that decision. I am most effective at my job when I am on campus.
However, I don’t want those of us in my situation to now be asked to hold the financial water for the university’s auxiliary operations – namely parking – if a significant chunk of the staff no longer commutes and pays to park on our campuses.
There is no “fair” or “equitable” (as Brown put it) solution that can apply to the entire university. If you chose a career path that requires you to be on campus, in person, every day, then that is what you chose. If I chose a career that can be done behind a computer, anywhere in the world, every day, then that is what I chose. All things are not equal here, people should not expect that, and policy should not be shaped on that premise.
People who need to commute should be compensated for their time traveling. If you work from home you have a huge bonus over someone who reports to campus. And without on-campus employees, BU wouldn’t exist.
Ironically the lowest paid and most specialized employees are those who are most likely to need to come to campus. And it’s a bit insulting to suggest a talented trades worker or lab researcher “choose” to work on campus vs someone who sits at a computer all day.
You make great points in your first paragraph. But “insulting to suggest a talented trades worker or lab researcher “choose” to work on campus”? Those are trades you do on-site, in-person. No way around it. You know it when you get into it. Should everybody else have to go into an office every day because some other jobs need to be performed on-site?
Agreed – but when your workload doubles or triples because you’re on campus making things easier for remote workers – (faxing, scanning, compiling) it’s not fair.
Fair. But that comes down to systems and process improvements that departments and the University at large can sort out and pay for. (First order of business: no more faxing!)
Been back in the office 5 days a week since early summer of 2020.
I take absolutely no issue with my fellow staff members being able to work remotely.
If my colleagues are taking care of their kids and/or their mental health then you should be happy for them. Taking care of yourself and others is essential in life and especially in the past year and I take issue with the administration not hearing us over this.
Also yes… we should strive for fairness. Those benefits you described should be options regardless of your coworkers being remote.
I agree that there are some employees for whom remote work is not a good option, either because they have to work on campus or prefer to work on campus. I have great respect for my colleagues who continued to come to campus at risk to their personal safety, mental health, and well being. That said, part of the need for so many staff to work remotely was to help reduce the risk to those who needed to be on campus – whose jobs could not be performed elsewhere.
I don’t believe that all employees are well suited to remote work. The colleagues that you reference – the ones who are playing with their kids or out for a walk may either have been dealing with the reality that during the pandemic people were forced to work remotely in cases where they may more productive working in the office (either because they work better in that structured environment or because their home set up isn’t conducive to remote work – kids, roommates, seniors/elders living with them, spouses working from home). Few of us below the executive level can afford the luxurious real estate that of those on the executive payroll given the boston housing market.
But for some, myself included, cutting out the commuting hours and the distractions of the office has increased my productivity. The University has gained from many of our colleagues being remote as we are actually putting in more hours of work, and have more availability to attend meetings since we are using zoom and not running up and down Comm Ave. When we return to campus, if that flexibility is eliminated, those extra hours will be lost.
BU has a long history of not addressing poor performing staff, and instead punishing high performers by insisting that we all be on campus, within eye sight. This is antiquated management and as an alum, I wince every time I think of the loans I’m still paying off because of lazy management practices.
I agree with the comments about equity – equitable does not mean equal. The University must recognize that it was not Brown and Morrison who kept the lights on this past year, but the personal risk and sacrifice taken by those staff and faculty who came to campus, and the many, many, many hours of extra work, balanced with personal challenges taken on by all of us (remote or on campus).
I am a parent, alum, and current employee and I have been on campus since last August. I , for 1, think the University has done a marvelous job through the whole pandemic. Very few people lost jobs, very few got sick, and the school is stronger for it. For those saying that all the president is concerned with is running the business of BU, you are correct. That is, in fact, his job.
To all of your points, BU is following local, state, and federal guidelines. Baker ordered all childcare facilities open. Child care should not be an issue then. No pandemic, your kids go. I am not saying the pandemic is over but at what point do we begin to go back to life as we knew it? What magic occurrence needs to happen for those who have been remote to come back? Working remote had its perks but those days were never going to go on forever. And I am sorry but at some point it is time to get in the car, on the train, or on the bike, and go back to work.
I know extenuating circumstances exist for many people but those few who still have issues preventing them from coming back to work should not speak for the multitude who do not. I am sure I will get railed for this but it is time to take the next steps forward in our return to normal and I applaud the school for their hard work and transparency.
Grateful we all survived COVID.
But, please, lets be honest.
Anyone who says we actually performed better as a university when working remotely is lying!!
And any faculty member (I am one) who says teaching on Zoom is better should not be allowed to teach!!
Glad that the Provost said NO to any teaching on Zoom for any reason. Will Brown now have the guts to stick to it. I hope BU sticks to that rule.
In his video, Eric Mazur presented several years worth of data on student scores on standard tests of both knowledge and attitude, and his students last semester scored higher on both than those in previous face-to-face classes.
Would you really want to say publicly, with your name on it, that Eric Mazur is lying and should not be allowed to teach? Wouldn’t it be better to check out what he has to say and see if there’s something to learn from it?
Your belief that performance suffered during remote work is just that: your personal belief. Perhaps the scores in your class suffered- this may indicate that *your * performance was worse, and remote teaching is not your strong suit; perhaps it means you did the best you could during what was a very difficult year, for many people? But as Debra pointed out, there is irrefutable data in support of the efficacy of remote learning- regardless of your personal preferences.
I, unlike you, am not faculty. I am staff- and I also have irrefutable data in support of the increased productivity of my unit over the past 15 months, where work has been performed entirely remotely – as does IT, and numerous other non- student and non-faculty facing functions across campus- functions which despite being ancillary, are critical to BU’s operations. All I will say is many staff are leaving, or have already left. And to those who say stop whining or think these are empty threats, I’d say to swing by HR and ask them how our turnover rate is looking these days…
“many of whom have left or are planning on leaving the University for workplaces that recognize the humanity of their employees…”
Reading some of these comments, I have to wonder how many of you (non faculty) have actually worked outside of higher education, or BU. I can assure you that if you think you are being mistreated at BU, you are in for a rude awakening if you try to work in regular industry, unless you are so uniquely talented that you are confident any company will bow to your demands, or you plan to work for yourself. I speak from experience when I tell you that the layoff we had would have been much larger and less humane at a regular company. The University is large and whether or not a person can work from home will depend on their role, and change is not easy for a University. I really think they will try to find a way to be flexible, but it may take time.
We also need to remember that the students are paying for an on campus experience. If we don’t provide that, expect larger cuts.
Those of you disgruntled, you can and should move on, but don’t be surprised when you find the grass is not always greener, especially if you are someone who has worked at BU for a long time. My advice is to take the higher salary you’ll get in the corporate world and be sure to build an emergency fund for the inevitable market downturns, layoffs and ageism you will encounter.
Moreover, some of you need to check your privilege. Many people at BU had to be on campus throughout this pandemic because the alternative was not having a job. Some of them have kids and had to pay for someone else to watch them. Many other people had to go to work at grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, public transportation. You are very fortunate you have the ability to choose where you work and that you got to spend part of this pandemic working from home.
Having worked in corporate and in higher ed, I have to agree with some of your points, but I think you’re missing a couple important things.
1- You are assuming that if people are leaving BU- they are going back into industry. Every other school in the Boston area has a remote work policy already in place. They also pay significantly better across the river but we’ll leave that aside for now.
2- As you mentioned, the disgruntled will leave – and they already are. We’ve seen over 40% turnover in my unit over the past year and the number’s been climbing the past month with every announcement from leadership. The problem you don’t seem to grasp with that is it’s the talented people who leave. You referred to people who’ve been here a long time- it’s not the “lifers” who print out every single email and can’t save a PDF that are ready to leave their jobs over WFH. It’s our top performers who actually have choices about where they work, and the incoming talent pool
Countless reports have been put out over the past year regarding talent (retention & management) being the number one threat to businesses – even over technology!- following COVID 19.
I wonder when our leadership will decide to read any of those, and how many staff will still be here by the time they do.
The only information presented at yesterday’s Town Hall Meeting that was valid was the continued pleas to get vaccinated.
Once again, or as always, BU will be trailing behind other schools as the powers that be refuse to even consider an outside the box approach to our new normal.
Despite talking about an equitable work place, BU has never held all employees to the same standards. Using equitability as an excuse to refuse change is shameful; a role that Brown seems pretty comfortable in.
I’m sure the President, Provost, and deans have little to no idea what the daily tasks of most staff entail. Similarly, I don’t know what they exactly do either. If the upper leadership positions and faculty are allowed to work remotely determining their own schedule and when they need to be in person, shouldn’t staff be allowed the same rights, especially after proving it can be done?
Brown will not share the raw WFH survey data because it will so heavily skew toward a desire for flexibility that their decision to go against these desires will be indefensible. Without giving specifics, the claim will be made that “not everyone who responded” sees the ability to WFH as a positive, and this will be used as justification. A University that likes to paint itself as progressive and cutting edge will show its true colors and make the most minor of adjustments to the quality of life of its workforce and trumpet how generous they are and how thankful you should be. Students don’t come here or stay here because of Suzy in the back of the accounts receivable office or Tom the IT business manager, but you’ll make them continue to commute an hour each way from Wakefield because we’re a “residential community”. News flash, the only staff who can afford to buy a home in this “residential community” are Bob and his his friends on Silber Way. Prepare to be disappointed.
Most on a BU salary can’t even afford Wakefield anymore. More like Tewksbury/Dracut/Chemlsford at this point, which pushes the commute closer to 2 hours.
I agree with everything you said!
Pretty much took the words right out of my mouth. But you know what? The world is changing, and if BU doesn’t embrace that change I’m sure there are plenty of prospective employers who will. I’ll be doing what someone suggests above and getting my resume ready.
Agreed, and disappointed.
It’d be great if those of us who worked every day of the pandemic on campus (seeing students) could be recognized in a formal, financial way. I have profound childcare challenges (and will continue to through September) and little flexibility from my department. I understand the challenge of returning to campus. But despite being “essential,” I’ve never felt less important. I’m tired and burnt out. What of us?
“Faculty should no longer use Zoom in the fall in cases of illness or other disruptions, and should return to pre-COVID planning, by either rescheduling the class or having a colleague teach it. “Our students come to the University for in-person interaction,” Morrison said.”
Rescheduling classes is effectively impossible. In classes with teaching fellows, they may be able to take over classes during an instructor’s illness. But I’m very disappointed that BU won’t leverage our experience with Zoom and encourage faculty who are sick, but not too sick to teach, to teach on Zoom until they are better, keeping viruses out of our classrooms.
I couldn’t agree more. Tell me how having a colleague essentially babysit my class (assuming I can find someone to do it) to maintain butts in seats is better than using Zoom? The underlying message is that BU’s administration doesn’t trust its faculty not to abuse the use of remote classes, which is beyond insulting.
Good point. I’ve taken courses online for the past few semesters and it was fine. I’m sure it works better for some classes than others, and for some individuals better than others. But saying remote teaching is something that should never be done anymore, except in a few programs, seems silly.
From a work standpoint as a staff person, my job lends itself quite nicely to working remotely. So, why would I need to go to an office multiple times per week?
The focus should be on results, not on presenteeism. BU has a lot to learn from Results Only Work Environments (ROWEs). Sure, SOME work needs to be conducted in person, for some people more often than others. That doesn’t mean that a flexible workplace shouldn’t be the norm.
After that town hall meeting, I started editing my resume and looking for a new job that understands the term flexibility.
I also found out today that the office air purifiers/HEPA units that were mentioned as being available for private office spaces are actually NOT.
They only ordered a handful, and will only be distributing on the CRC to a select few; excluding most, including MED as usual. Quite a different reality to the “everyone with an office can reach out and get one because we care about safety” nonsense.
I likewise agree with the earlier posters’ comments; such a complete and utter disregard for the reality that is right in front of us. To ignore the opportunity to better support the staff and faculty and be more INCLUSIVE simply illustrates that it’s all just window dressing.
New normal…more like same old clueless business as usual!
One of my interns recently had surgery and, because the internship is remote, the student’s life is easier than having to haul over to the office on crutches a few times per week. And since the work this student is doing can be done entirely remotely, I’m glad the student does not have to deal with the hassle of commuting. Moving forward, just like with professional staff, where student staff can do their work remotely, that should be an option, at least part of the time.
Disappointed, but not surprised, by yesterday’s town hall. It just highlights yet again how tonedeaf and out of touch senior leadership is from the rest of us. Brown et al wouldn’t know anything about long commutes, commuting costs, or childcare issues, because why would they at their salary levels? Agree with above posters, there was a lot of deflecting with answers to questions, and waiting until the end of August (maybe, could be later than that) to let employees know about the possibility of some sort of remote, hybrid option is just a stall tactic because it’s back to business as usual. All of this flies in the face of progression, which I thought BU liked to tout how progressive it is? The whole thing is such nonsense.
I’m relieved to see I’m not the only one disappointed by the lack of clarity of the town hall. There was SUCH a negative tone re: Zoom usage, when in fact it kept BU afloat and in many cases thriving.
Listen to your staff. We are going to lose people for no good reason, and recruiting quality talent will not be easy when we have little to offer.
I’m especially concerned by the apparent lack of interest in what faculty and students might have learned about teaching and learning during the pandemic. Eric Mazur, who is a physics professor at Harvard and well-known for his work in education, just published a video discussing the ways in which his teaching on Zoom was more effective — so much so that he says it would be unethical to go back to teaching exactly the way he did before the pandemic. He is looking at a mix of Zoom for active learning/group work and in person for hands-on work.
Where’s the room for creativity and that overused term “innovation?” Using Zoom judiciously could enable active learning strategies that the architecture of lecture halls and other classrooms at BU often impede.
Also for faculty and students with chronic health issues, being able to work remotely has been a game-changer. Something like class once a week on Zoom could enable faculty with chronic health issues to use their energy for teaching rather than for commuting and end up ultimately better for students too.
Agreed. The push for all staff to be working in person escapes me. Sure, for some roles, being in person is necessary (some or all of the time). For a substantial percentage of BU employees, however, being in person is not essential, and certainly not all the time. If people are getting their work done, why force them to go back to being in person?
Feeling as though I should update my resume as well. I’m losing hope that my department is going to offer much flexibility after the President’s messaging the last month or so. And trust me, my role can easily work at a high level remotely (and I wouldn’t be asking for fully remote at all).
I was so hopeful a year ago when we had clearly done a great job transitioning to remote learning. I was completely sure that going forward, we would offer a remote option to students and faculty. I was completely sure that the world had in fact changed and that the fall of 2021 could not look like the fall of 2019 because our students wouldn’t allow it. And yet…here we are. It is so beyond disappointing. For the last year I was required to be on campus to teach my classes, but my elementary school children were home. We depleted our savings in hiring babysitters to guide my kids through online school while I worked. When I was permitted to teach via Zoom, I had to justify it with a pedagogical reason, getting permission in advance (talk about insulting! Have I not shown that I am responsible, care about students, etc?). Far and away those fully remote classes were better than any of the hybrid classes all semester, because with some students in class and some on Zoom, class was always super awkward. If we can’t all be in person, all on Zoom was so much better. But the university didn’t let me make that call, which was infuriating.
Some students want a remote option for reasons that have nothing to do with Covid. Some faculty and staff want a remote option for reasons that have nothing to do with Covid. What Covid taught us is that remote teaching, learning, and working CAN work, and it can work really well. This attempt to return to an old normal is so disheartening, and completely disrespectful to the work we did to juggle everything during the pandemic. I wholeheartedly support the staff member(s) who asked for payment for having to be in person while others weren’t. Those costs are real.
As an alum (and I am also married to an alum), I am incredibly concerned about the future of this university. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that “butts in seats” is not linked to productivity. Rather than continuing to hold on to so much expensive real estate, perhaps the university could consider selling some of it and creating programs that exist wholly virtually, and staff positions that exist wholly virtually. I work daily with three full time staff people and there is no reason I ever need any of them on campus, but I have no voice in what’s required of them. It makes no sense, and as others have pointed out, it does not respect the intelligence, responsibility, and integrity of the people BU claims to care so deeply about.
I think it’s important to look to see what other institutions are doing. If Harvard and MIT can be progressive and innovative, perhaps we should strive for that, as well. Just take a look at Harvard’s Back-to-Work plan: it’s flexible and innovative (check their HR website for the details). Harvard kind of is the gold standard here, at least in this part of the country, so wouldn’t it behoove BU to be thoughtful in their approach to a return to campus, and maybe model it on what other top-tier institutions in the area are doing? Is no one considering this? I can’t be the only one thinking about this. Anyone? Bueller?
What you say makes sense to me.
Anyone actually care about the students, and the massive fees they have to pay for a BU education? Said fees from “butts in seats” actually fund the salaries and benefits of BU staff and faculty. Not much on here concerning the students. The fees required to attend BU are for in-person instruction, not for a talking head on a TV screen. If students wanted an online degree they would choose one and pay a small fraction of the cost of BU ($8-9k vs $58k). If you want to teach remotely then perhaps the fees should be reduced accordingly for your particular course. But then, surprise, there would have to be more layoffs, and expense cuts to cover revenue shortfalls. Can’t have it both ways, and how did everyone seem to make it work before COVID? As a parent and an alum the comments from faculty here are extremely disappointing.
For the most part here, people are not saying that they want to teach remotely all the time, and I don’t see any student-facing staff saying they want to WFH all the time either. What I see are faculty who want to be able to teach a class via Zoom as an alternative to either coming in sick to teach or having to reschedule class (which is difficult much of the time because of student schedules and classroom space reservations). I also see faculty who want to innovate in their courses using the technology they became adept at over the course of a year of teaching in a hybrid or remote environment. As long as classes are advertised as having some Zoom elements, students can choose whether or not they want to take those classes over fully in-person classes.
Additionally, staff who work with students (like me) care immensely about our students. How dare you suggest otherwise after we’ve spent a year killing ourselves and sacrificing our own mental health to give students the best possible experience and to care for students’ mental health during an extremely hard time. Whether we’ve been in-person, hybrid, or totally WFH, we’ve been working nights after our own kids go to bed and on weekends while our families and friends relax.
I’m sure you’ve worked very hard and made sacrifices as you point out so emphatically, but so has everyone else of necessity, including students who’ve had to learn from computer screens, missed the interactivity and engagement of in-person classes, missed the normal opportunities to make friends and socialize, missed Thanksgiving, unable to attend BU events, have graduation, matriculation etc. etc. and still have to pay full-priced tuition, and room and board (for takeaway snack boxes), if they were even lucky enough to be on-campus. It’s pretty clear from your response that you want to maintain the more convenient hybrid work model, regardless of what students want or need, or how much they (and their parents) have to pay for BU tuition. If it’s such a problem doing the job in-person on-campus, how on earth did you handle working at BU before the pandemic and hybrid/WFH? The university’s priority is optimizing the educational experiences of the student population that pays your salary and benefits, not prioritizing a more comfortable and convenient work situation for those of you who now find the job inconvenient.
As you probably can see from most if not all of the comments no one is asking for students to live on a Zoom screen. Not sure why you are doubling down on it.
People are looking for a 21st century working environment that includes both helping students and faculty in person and working from home when they are not needed to be there physically. There are many days that I don’t need to be on campus. We are asking our employer to have a balance where if I do not need to waste my time getting to the office for “body in seats” sake i don’t have to. I don’t think that is unreasonable. When I am needed on campus I am there and that isn’t a question. To imagine that the student experience is changed by someone not being in an unseen cubicle is odd to say the least.
Also many of us have worked in other industries as well. My previous employer had many people working (an even managing) remotely and most only came into the office 3-4 days a week. That is what we are seeing all around us and it is here to stay. While it obviously has to be tweaked for a residential campus, not seeing any nuance from the administration is concerning.
I am a student and did not hear the meeting but was told about this article and the comments by other students. Like so many of my BU friends who are talking about this, I am also quite shocked to read the comments.
Seems like so many people who work at the university hate working with students, even some of the faculty comments seem like they don’t actually like to teach. I am sure not everyone is like that, but it is shocking to read these comments.
I love BU and many of my CAS teachers, but even before covid it was nearly impossible to meet any faculty member outside class because they seemed never to be on campus or in their office (one professor told me she comes only on Wednesday and there was just one 30 minute period in which she could meet).
During covid I am sure everyone worked very hard but it was impossible to get quality time even with academic advisors. ‘Send me an email’, I was told and I could get an answer to my questions but no real advice. Zoom classes were already bad (but I understand it was the only emergency option) but the prerecorded lectures (in one class, prof repeated video recorded from previous semester) were horrid to sit through.
I am thankful to everyone for making things kind-of work during a pandemic emergency, but now we know that this remote thing is inferior (at least for teaching and student advising) so why would anyone stay with it. I don’t think I will pay this high tuition to go to class and find it is in person a few times and on zoom on others, or to be sending emails to my advisor and getting back canned responses instead of being able to visit in person when I need to.
A significant portion of the frustration you are seeing here is coming from staff (myself included) whose roles are a) completely non-student facing and b) translate very well to a remote or hybrid work environment. I supervise a small unit (4 of us total) and none of interact with students. We do not hate students! I’ve had some great work study students over the years, and I work in higher ed by choice. The fact of the matter is that we have experienced increased levels of productivity over the past year, primarily due to the fact that we are not dealing with a daily commute into Boston. For those of us who have standard desk jobs, the pandemic has brought to light that a healthier work-life balance is possible with a flexible work environment. We just want some concrete answers at this point, especially when we know for a fact that other area institutions have established flexible work plans. Most of us aren’t even looking for a 100% remote work arrangement–just some flexibility that will allow us to remain productive, happier, and healthier.
Well put, Staff.
I agree whole heartedly! This is a residential campus! Students want to be HERE and in order to do that, WE need to be here. I am sorry for all those who are concerned about a return but this is a private school that depends on tuition and fees for our salary and benefits.
On another note, my students (I am faculty) were almost all in person and they HATED their Zoom classes. Most of them found them to be boring and tedious. They came to school to learn from us in person. So yeah, I believe Brown and Morrison listened to the students before making a lot of these decisions. Of course faculty and staff would like their same salaries and benefits while not having to deal with a commute. But it si the student that loses out.
I work in a central office and have not interacted with a student in years. I am happy students are excited for return to campus, but my on-campus presence does not enhance their experience, and there are several others I can come up with (AP, Budget, OGC, HR, PAFO/OSP, many Communications and Finance roles, Sourcing, etc.) with hundreds of employees who have little to no student interaction.
Not all employees at the university are faculty or student facing staff, which seems to be a core part of people’s insistence that staff are on campus. Many staff roles are backoffice (I have no data, but I would guess the majority of them are). Why is there an impetus to return to campus when students don’t know who I am or likely care much if I process invoices at home or on BU’s campus after a 2 hour one way commute?
Staff collectively just want the flexibility to join the 21st century workforce and be given options.
Yes; however, sometimes student-facing staff and faculty also have a need to physically visit “back offices” or talk to someone on the phone so we can successfully do our jobs.
I think rotating staff in these “back offices” might be a good idea, but I don’t think they should be completely unoccupied while the rest of the campus returns to 100% capacity because there’ll be times when we need to talk to someone, in-person, to get a job done quickly.
Terrier, I agree with you. I don’t think 100% unoccupied is viable. What about 1 WFH day a week or maybe a condensed work week? Or 2? How about hoteling space to reduce space constraints on campus? There are many businesses and other large educational institutions (H, MIT) with viable work from home policies and still continue to operate and excel.
It’s not an all or nothing debate, where is the middle ground for progress towards a modern workplace? I don’t think anyone is calling for fully remote work or fully remote teaching. How about we take what we’ve learned over the past year and use it to enhance teaching pedagogy and hybrid workplace development strategy instead of pretending we’re an institution stuck in the 1980s.
I agree with Alumni, Instructor, Staff, Parent and Student.
I find it frustrating that the administration seems to think that WFH is an all or nothing choice. BU has a space issue which could be helped by some people working from home sometimes. Even staff who have face-to-face interactions with students couldn’t be allowed 1-2 days a month where they have no student visits to WFH? I know many senior folks who have flexibility to WFH even before the pandemic. Have they all been in 5 days/weeks since this started? I don’t get why we can’t be like most other places of employment and allow even just a small amount of flexibility for staff. Things being equitable never seemed to matter before in terms of childcare, cost of living, commutes but not when it benefits the administration they are all for things being equitable. I feel I am at the end of the rope and even just a small amount of flexibility would mean a lot. As for tradespeople who can’t work remotely why not find another perk for them in place of WFH?
The faculty should use zoom on sick days. Breaking routine or falling behind is detrimental to students education and a remote option removes those obstacles.
As a student, I’m disappointed in the staff comments I am reading. I’d expect the SCHOOL and it’s staff’s number one concern would be improving the education and experience of its students. Very few of the comments even mention students let alone show any concern for them. I agree with John.
Not all staff roles interact with students. As a former student, I assure you I was not worried about whether or not someone doing back office financials was in an office on campus. However, I was concerned about the costs of my education. And frankly, I’d like to see some numbers on how costs might be reduced if we were to eliminate the staff footprint on campus. Not for student facing roles, but for those of us who keep the lights on in a different, behind the scenes way. My experience is that most staff care deeply about the BU and it’s students. It’s why they stay, despite the many other opportunities in the city of Boston. Please don’t confuse staff wanting to be treated fairly with not caring about the students. We have people sharing offices on campus (in buildings that regulary flood, have HVAC issues, or are otherwise not conducive to working). Allowing flexibility for those for whom it is appropriate is smart business and not mutually exclusive to caring about students.
The university employs hundreds of staff whose roles are entirely non-student/faculty facing. Many non-student facing positions are 100% desk jobs that can be performed anywhere with little to no difference in work output. Staff, especially those whose roles are conducive to remote work, are simply asking for flexibility. 80% of Boston corporations are planning on transitioning to hybrid work permanently. Harvard and MIT (and many other area institutions) had flex work policies in place pre-COVID. Many non-student/faculty facing teams have become incredibly productive in a remote work environment over the past year. Eliminating 2-3 hours of daily commuting time even just twice a week is a game changer for many staff, who are simply asking for a bone to be thrown our way after a challenging year.
I’m in one of those roles that the commenter “Staff” mentioned in these replies. My job doesn’t involve any work directly with students or faculty, and primarily interacts with other staff who are not located in the same building as myself even under “normal” circumstances. I spend most of the day on Zoom, writing documents, or responding to email. Honestly, most students would probably be happier if I stayed home and out of their way. Otherwise I’m just taking up space on the T, making lines longer at Dunkin, etc. President Brown keeps talking about the importance of a bustling, vibrant, in-person campus, but do students really benefit from crowded buses and long waits for coffee?
The town hall meeting yesterday was thoroughly demoralizing.
I was walking on Comm Ave. the other day and it felt quite vibrant to me — lots of people, many of whom seemed to be students, and that was with most BU employees working remotely. So, if the desire for a vibrant campus is one of the reasons for forcing non-student-facing staff back to campus, I don’t get it.
I think it’s important to remember that BU faculty and staff have been bending over backwards the past year to keep BU afloat (just as much as students have). Numerous faculty members in these comments have expressed a desire to incorporate their newly learned technical skills to make coursework more accessible to students. Other staff members in the town hall expressed a desire to mandate vaccines for faculty and staff, which would ultimately make campus safer for students.
I don’t think it’s fair to accuse the faculty and staff here of not caring about students. This town hall was specifically held to tell us about how we would return to campus and adapt to the 21st century. Instead we were met with vague answers and a complete lack of concern for our humanity. Staff and faculty are people too. If they are happy, guess what? The work they do for the university will be better, and students will only reap those benefits.
I am a staff member AND a parent. Whatever my other views, I am generally disgusted at some of the comments from faculty. JUST HOW ENTITLED CSN YOU BE. Faculty cones in just a day or the at the most in regular times, teaches maybe six hours a week, or less, and now they don’t even want to do that. My kid, your student, NEEDS you to be here and in person, in class and in advising. There has to be some limits to faculty privilege. Wanting to teach on zoom so that you can take your junkets in the name of so-called research is cheating my child. Just recording it once and asking them to watch it is even worse… we can get better stuff on YouTube. I hope BU will not cave in and give faculty even more entitlement and privilege by letting them just Zoom in. That will be criminal – and, NO, you did NOT perform well during Covid. Studying on Zoom was a horrible experience. Horrible.
Faculty privilege in universities is already an apartheid system. They come in just two days a week and never in summer, we staff come in every day to support the students. Wht can’t they. I have and will come on every day to be here for students, so should faculty!!
I don’t see any comments here from faculty wanting to teach on Zoom full time. The debate around working from home is almost entirely focused on non-student facing staff. I’m a faculty member, and I HATED teaching hybrid, and I don’t know any faculty member who doesn’t want to return to the classroom.
However, I spent a tremendous amount of time last year developing new online resources and materials for my students who were fully remote. In some cases, the online version was objectively better that what I had done previously in-person. Am I supposed to go back to the old way of doing everything “just because”? Or can I selectively use my new online/hybrid materials to supplement in-person teaching to benefit student learning? What I’m hearing from my fellow faculty members is a desire to update and improve our classes given what we’ve learned over the past year and a half, but we’re hearing mixed messages about whether we can do this. Trust me, we don’t want to teach fully remote — remote teaching is MUCH harder than in-person teaching.
I’ve also heard from many faculty that they actually had MORE students attend office hours when they were online compared to in-person. I can imagine that students who live off campus would appreciate an option to have a Zoom meeting with me for office hours rather than having to make the trek to see me in-person, especially if it’s just a quick question. Also, I could more easily offer office hours at non-standard times if I had the option of using Zoom. In that case my desire to use Zoom would benefit students.
Furthermore, if I get a minor cold I’m not going to teach in person until I can confirm that I don’t have COVID. So my options if I get sick would be 1) cancel class, 2) try to reschedule (which is almost impossible to do), 3) find someone to teach my class (which for my classes is very difficult to do on short notice), 4) show a recording of last year’s class (if I have one), or the new option 5) teach the class over Zoom synchronously. I imagine many students would appreciate the option of being able to ask questions live over Zoom rather than watch a recording or have a random instructor try to fill in. However, during the town hall it was pretty clear that in these situations we can’t use Zoom and that canceling class is the preferred option if we can’t get someone to cover. To me that just doesn’t make sense.
Hear! Hear! Well put. Seems some faculty on this comments section believe that the university is basically there to serve them and their desires for more convenience, at the expense of those who are the real priority “customers” and primary source of revenue, THE STUDENTS. That’s completely the wrong way around. The faculty exists to serve the educational needs of the students. No students, no need for faculty. Quite simple really. A potential WFH/Zoom/Hybrid teaching model will diminish the BU academic experience and performance, ultimately reducing demand for and the value of a BU degree, lowering its reputation, and lowering the amount that students and their parents will be willing to pay to attend the university. Not a good outcome from there.
President Brown must be given credit for discussing returning to work issue with staff and faculty. The university’s primary mission is to educate students and if an employee does not want to accept the decision of management, they owe it to themselves to look opportunities elsewhere. Those who are unsatisfied with BU’s expectation of restoring work and life on campus must be reminded that BU management had shown full commitment to its employees by limiting the impact of the pandemic on the university, as very few layoffs and furloughs were instituted. In addition, BU is investing in the future of the institution by allocating resources to the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Center for Antiracist Research plus building the Computer Science center
It’s backwards policies and regressive thinking like this that make it hard for me, as an alum, to ever consider donating to BU again.
I want my alma mater to be known as a pioneer in the workforce and a leader in creative thinking that would allow everyone who works there to live up to their maximum potential.
Instead, this policy shows that university leadership learned exactly nothing after living through a global pandemic. You’re going to lose out on talented workers, innovative thinkers, and the ability to become a more equitable institution.
Instead, you’re enabling micromanagers, increasing inefficiencies, and getting left behind when the rest of the world is moving forward.
Once again, I see news about BU and I ask myself, “When will I ever be ‘Proud to BU'”?
There are parents and students here worried about educational experiences and that is fair (of course! you’re worried about your future).
I just want to say that I feel for you, I do… and, yet, what will get your child/self and A+ education is faculty and staff who don’t feel mistreated by their employer. As much as we ALL say that seeing students grow, develop, and move into successful careers is the reason we love our jobs (despite low pay and poor work-life balance), that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask for respect for our employer, especially when it means the potential health and well-being of our loved ones is at risk. I mean, we are still people even if our job is to serve and support you.
Agreed! and well stated.
The desire to work remotely for some employees is driven by health and safety concerns. The rate of vaccination for BU faculty and staff (which I believe was reported in the Town Meeting as 50%) is lower than the percentage of the Massachusetts population that is fully vaccinated (55.9%) and is also lower than the percentage of the MA population that has received at least 1 dose (67.6%).
For employees who never interact with students and who have chosen back-office careers, requiring these employees to return to in-person work alongside unvaccinated co-workers is concerning. For staff who have chronic medical conditions that place them at a higher risk from COVID-19, asking them to be exposed to unvaccinated co-workers, is a risk. Not everyone’s reason for preferring wfh has to do with child care, elderly care, commuting, or work life balance. For some people, health and safety is the primary concern.