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SIUC faculty and graduate assistants unions demand remote learning this fall

Monday, Aug 3, 2020

* Press release…

Leaders of the unions representing SIUC graduate assistants (Graduate Assistants United) and tenured and tenure-track faculty (the SIUC Faculty Association) called today for SIUC to commit to remote learning, teaching, and working this fall semester, with exceptions only for those courses and other university functions that absolutely must take place on campus.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to worsen across the United States, Illinois, southern Illinois, and Jackson County, union leaders believe the time has come to put safety first. Only those courses that absolutely must be offered on-campus should be offered on-campus, they believe. And students should be encouraged to remain off-campus if they have a safe place where they can effectively continue their studies off-campus.

“If we encourage students to congregate in Carbondale, we will not only endanger their health and safety, but that of SIUC instructors and staff, and others in the Carbondale area,” said Dave Johnson, president of the SIUC Faculty Association.

The unions are negotiating with the university in an effort to reduce risks in the classroom, and report that both sides are negotiating in good faith, and that progress has been made. The university is taking steps to reduce risk on campus. But these measures can’t address the issue of transmission outside of classrooms and dorms. Most students don’t live in dorms, and the average student spends no more than fifteen hours a week in the classroom.

“Masks and social distancing on campus are essential,” Johnson noted, “but the university can do very little to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 outside of on-campus housing and classrooms. We are already seeing far too many cases among the college-age population in Jackson County. We’ve seen all over the country that increased cases lead to hospitalization and deaths. We have to listen to what the scientists are telling us, rather than just hoping for the best.”

If students need to come to Carbondale for classes that can only be offered in person, or if Carbondale is a safer and more practical place for them to pursue their studies, they should be welcomed back to the safest conditions the university can provide, the groups believe. But many students may be in a safer and more productive learning environment if they remain outside of Carbondale.

Leaders of both unions also worry that the on-campus experience would not meet students’ expectations, due to the constraints posed by the pandemic. Even under the current reopening plan, most courses would be partially or completely online, and campus services and activities would be limited. This compromised on-campus experience could hurt SIUC’s reputation in the long run, they point out.

“Students and families should make the decisions that are right for them,” Johnson noted. “The on-campus experience simply isn’t going resemble what it’s been like in years past, and we shouldn’t be asking students to return to campus just to fill dorms and pay fees.”

Another issue of concern for the groups is transparency about COVID-19 cases on campus. While the university quickly reported COVID-19 cases this spring, there has been no clear public reporting about the cases that have occurred on campus since then. This makes it impossible for students, families, and others to make informed decisions about safety on campus.

SIUC faculty and graduate assistants believe that the best way for SIUC to ensure a safe and productive teaching and learning environment this fall is to take the following steps:

    1. Offer all courses remotely unless they can only be offered face to face and are required for students to advance in their programs and graduate.
    2. Encourage students to return to Carbondale only if they are registered for courses that must be offered face to face or can only safely and effectively continue their studies by returning.
    3. Focus planning and resources on ensuring the safety of students and staff who do need to study and work on campus.
    4. Work urgently to address the digital divide by providing all off-campus students with reliable access to the internet.
    5. Repurpose fees to address the digital divide and refund other on-campus fees for students who remain off-campus.
    6. Work with unions to advocate for state and federal funding to make universities whole for economic losses suffered due to the COVID-19 crisis.
    7. Work with unions to get the state and federal government to provide extended unemployment benefits for any workers who are laid off or cannot work safely on campus.

“We all want to return to the classroom as soon as we can do so safely,” said Anna Wilcoxen, president of Graduate Assistants United. “But it’s just not safe yet, physically or psychologically, and an unsafe learning environment does not lead to a quality education. If we act now to switch to remote learning, we can provide students with a high-quality educational experience while protecting our communities against the deadly threat of COVID-19.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Downstate - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 10:25 am:

    It’s a tough balance that colleges are trying to keep. On the one hand, they insist that online learning is not as effective as in-person learning. But at the same time, they are hesitant to offer any reduction in tuition, when a majority of classes will be provided on-line, only.

  2. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 10:35 am:

    rich. Any fall enrollment numbers for siuc anywhere. Might just be hearsay, but some are saying a 10% drop.

  3. - 47th Ward - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 10:50 am:

    ===they are hesitant to offer any reduction in tuition, when a majority of classes will be provided on-line, only.===

    It’s not as if their expenses are any lower with on-line instruction, so offering a discount means they will lose more money.

  4. - Downstate - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:02 am:

    “so offering a discount means they will lose more money.”

    I don’t disagree. But not offering one, means that they might lose more students.

    Sadly, it’s probably a choice for universities of either a “controlled descent” or “free fall”.

  5. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:03 am:

    Students need to have a list of their own “demands”. For example, if on-line learning is the only option, students that are Freshmen and Sophomores can take their prerequisite classes online or otherwise at a local community college at a fraction of the cost and still retain their Big U scholarships when the “experience” they were sold re-emerges . . . .for starters.

  6. - ChrisB - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:09 am:

    Man, if I was a rising freshman going to college, this would be a perfect time to take a gap year. You already lost out on the fun senior year stuff, might as well wait until this all blows over so you can get the college freshman year experience.

    Plus you could probably make bank tutoring/babysitting kids for the year.

  7. - Pundent - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:14 am:

    The reality for many kids is that a big part of the first few years of college life are about being away from home and on campus. If you take that away why incur debt to take on-line classes that are readily available from a community college.

  8. - AndyIllini - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:31 am:

    =Man, if I was a rising freshman going to college, this would be a perfect time to take a gap year. You already lost out on the fun senior year stuff, might as well wait until this all blows over so you can get the college freshman year experience.=

    At a minimum a community college year would be in order.

    As far as SIUC, that university is just in big trouble unfortunately.

  9. - Huh? - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:32 am:

    My niece isn’t going back to on campus learning at SIUC. They spoke to her advisor and found out all her classes were to be online. So why spend the room and board.

  10. - Downstate - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:43 am:

    “At a minimum a community college year would be in order.”

    Sadly, UIUC has informed incoming freshman if they chose to take a one year deferment, any credits they earn from other institutions during the year will not count toward an Illinois degree.

    Truly sad.

  11. - Mr. K - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:52 am:

    When the history of all of this is written — there are going to be a lot of people on the wrong side of it.

    The situation in Carbondale is a perfect example. If you get Covid and survive — there are more studies coming out that say survivors have more issues (kidney issues, neuro issues) than anyone initially suspected.

    So, yeah, send your kid to school. Kid gets it, makes her way through it — and then has long lasting damage for the rest of her life.

    That’s great. All for … what? Because you can’t learn online for a year? It’s crazy.

    This “rushing back to pretend all is normal” is going to look like craziness in 5 years.

    It’s absolute insanity to *even suggest* that a young kid goes into a dorm filled with people.

  12. - 47th Ward - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:06 pm:

    ===any credits they earn from other institutions during the year will not count toward an Illinois degree.===

    Why even have an IBHE if they won’t enforce articulation agreements? This is so wrong, on so many levels. It’s nearly everything that is wrong with higher education in Illinois captured perfectly in that example.

    Truly sad indeed.

  13. - Pundent - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:06 pm:

    =Sadly, UIUC has informed incoming freshman if they chose to take a one year deferment, any credits they earn from other institutions during the year will not count toward an Illinois degree.=

    I’m sure there will be any number of public and private schools in and outside of Illinois that will have no qualms in welcoming these sophomores and their transfer credits next year.

  14. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:16 pm:

    I find myself disheartened because for our State Universities the ability to withstand this crisis has been so profoundly disrupted by the unnecessary havoc wreaked by the Rauner Administration.

    However, this crisis cannot become the excuse that is hung on the toes of student body corpses.

    The youth are already the victims of our failure to address this crisis. We do not need to make them victims of the pandemic in an effort to make up for our failures without acknowledging their root.

    On the national level we should take advantage of our fiat currency and quantitative easing for something besides propping up debt ridden for profit entities.

  15. - JS Mill - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:28 pm:

    They are missing a key demand, and it is student oriented so I am not surprised.

    They need to ensure that students get the instructional support from their instructors that they need. Instructors, lecturing into a recorded video is not going to be adequate. My daughter is headed to SIUE and all of her classes have gone to online. More than half are now listed as “asynchronous” fancy words for “not live”. If she has a question or needs clarification my impression is that she will have to engage in a time wasting email chain. They need to have people available “synchronously” for kids. I have yet to receive a response to my question on this topic that I sent to the University last week.

    My kid needs to go to campus, there are reasons that I won’t be sharing here, so we will suck it up and pay the $9 k for housing, but I will be ticked if they just leave the kids high and dry with a minimal level of instruction.

  16. - City Zen - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:36 pm:

    ==besides propping up debt ridden for profit entities==

    The same debt ridden for profit entities the state university pension system is heavily invested in?

  17. - Nieva - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:56 pm:

    And just like that SIU lost another 20% of their enrollment.

  18. - Mr. K - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 1:22 pm:

    The only bright side — and this is stretching it, I realize it — but the bright side here (and I tell myself this everyday) is that Rauner is gone.

    If Rauner were still here — and we’re going through this — we’d be in a world of hurt worse than the world of hurt we’re in now.

    So, yeah, that’s my little bit of optimistic thinking that gets me through my work day.

  19. - Fighter of Foo - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 1:58 pm:

    Honest question. Not just Illinois schools, but how many Colleges and Universities will go under? I have a Senior and I am glad he is not ready this Fall. I already had the conversation about starting at Junior College. I have plenty of friends that have opted to punt this year, instead of paying for a Freshman to take online courses at that incredibly high rate. This has to destroy the Schools. Like K-12 I don’t think the Unions realize that people are really struggling. That Like the great recession,expensive degrees did not pay off. I feel horrible for all involved.

  20. - Doc Anonymous - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 2:48 pm:

    Online instruction often gets a bad rap. It can be every bit as effective as in person instruction, if done correctly. That’s a big “if”, of course, but colleges and universities that plan ahead and devote resources to online teaching are going to do a better job of it than those that try to do a little bit of everything–face to face with masks and distancing, hybrid courses, and online. That’s particularly the case if they end up having to shut down face to face instruction in a hurry again this fall. Universities won’t be forgiven for a repeat of the chaos that hit this spring, which they couldn’t have anticipated. Everyone is anticipating the possibility of having to shut down early this fall.

    The benefits of going off to college are wider than in-class instruction, but they mainly involve precisely the sorts of social interaction that COVID-19 is going to make difficult or impossible.

  21. - Enviro - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 2:56 pm:

    Starting at a community college or at a state university with remote learning would both be good choices this year.

    Starting the first year of college life on campus and away from home can result in too much responsibility for which young people are not yet prepared.

  22. - Frank talks - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 3:50 pm:

    IBHE is dropping the ball here. Too many fiefdoms within the university system. IBHE should have a statewide coordinated plan. If they do not have some type of statewide overlap kids will leave the state once this is over and out of state colleges will take all their credits from a CC plus let them keep scholarships or add more.
    In state tuition is less in most other states already. State systems that are hurt by Covid will offer in state tuition to Illinois kids to bump up their enrollment while Illinois goes back to the drawing board on how to keep our kids here. Especially if they can transfer all their credits and get a lower rate.

  23. - Fighter of Foo - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 3:55 pm:

    My kid can’t get in to U of I… He is only looking out of state. Along with a large majority o seniors that have been. The cost is not prohibitive as it once was.

  24. - theCardinal - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 5:07 pm:

    Question Does anyone know what Medicak Schools are doing ?Maybe un-employment looks good to some professors a SIUC. Last time I was there it looked like half the doorms were shuttered. If I’m paying on-line tution it won’t be for my kid to get a degree from SIUC.

  25. - Modesto Reasner - Monday, Aug 10, 20 @ 9:51 pm:

    post in here

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