POV: University’s Course Guidance for Fall Is “Wishful Thinking” and “Inadequate”
Three CAS faculty propose modified guidelines to “deal with the reality of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic we are facing”
The fall 2021 semester course guidance for in-person teaching and learning recently released by Boston University is inadequate. It is written with wishful thinking, and denial of the very real probability that faculty and students will become sick with COVID-19 this semester. Further, it disregards the additional challenges of caregiving during this pandemic and the almost guaranteed scenario that children, especially those under 12, who are ineligible for vaccines, will be quarantining this year.
In an August 25 memo to the University, the Office of the Provost released guidelines with statements such as, “If you need to miss in-person classes” and “students may need to miss class.” Who are we kidding? While denial is a powerful coping tool, the lack of sufficient policies in place is setting faculty and students up for failure. Instead, we urge Boston University to take a more proactive and flexible approach in their guidance. In doing so, they will support student learning and help preserve the health—both physical and mental—of their community.
In response to the Provost’s message, we propose the current guidance should be modified as follows to deal with the reality of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic we are facing:
- The fall semester will be a return to in-person learning. Faculty and students will attend classes in person, except when they need to isolate due to COVID.
- To help ensure pedagogical consistency and rigor, we recommend that faculty, with the help of their departments and the resources available via the Center for Teaching & Learning and Educational Technology, take proactive steps to develop alternate plans for the scenario that students and/or faculty may miss classes due to sickness related to COVID. For example, faculty may wish to record their lectures so that students unable to attend class because of COVID may catch up with coursework as needed. We also recommend that faculty prerecord backup lectures and/or put in place backup guest lecturers in case of a COVID emergency.
- If a faculty member has a sick child or dependent at home, or their child is in quarantine with no backup childcare available, they should immediately notify their department chair to develop a plan to accommodate such an extended absence. In such cases, remote teaching for a specific short-term period may be recommended.
- We urge faculty to develop clear guidelines in their syllabus to describe the steps for students if they need to miss class because of COVID-related issues. Additionally, faculty should stress that students should prioritize their own health and the health of the community.
These new guidelines, if accepted, would empower faculty to make the best choices for student learning and the health and safety of their families and the Boston University community. They would signal to faculty that the University values their health and trusts their judgment. They would empower faculty to make the best recommendations for pedagogical consistency and rigor. They would provide additional security to pre-tenure faculty who may otherwise feel the need to take unnecessary risks to be in class, as they might be afraid of possible repercussions for their career. They would acknowledge that Boston University understands parents—especially mothers who are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic—are dealing with extra and unusual challenges this semester. They would let parents plan accordingly. They would give students the reassurance that even if they get sick with COVID, they will know how to keep up with their coursework.
We are thankful to Boston University for many of their decisions over this time, which prioritized health and pedagogy. However, we also need to recognize the dynamic landscape that lies ahead. There is no return to normal this semester. The reality is that we continue to live in a world where a global pandemic rages on. We are observing evolution in real time, where the next variant is knocking at our doors. We spent the last 18-plus months reinventing how to work during a pandemic—why not learn from this process? Instead of forcing the old model to fit this new reality, we can evolve too. In doing so, we will be better prepared this time, and we can set up our community for success by taking a realistic approach to the academic year ahead.
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