UF plans to move forward with face-to-face classes in the Spring — despite faculty concerns over COVID-19.
In a Faculty Senate town hall Tuesday, UF Provost Joseph Glover committed to offering at least as many in-person class sections in the Spring as were offered in Spring 2020.
The goal, he said, is to cater to student demand for on-site learning and move the university to a sense of normalcy.
That includes students split between classrooms and homes, up to 11 feet of distance between students and professors and mandatory masks.
“We are in a short timeline to accomplish much of this since students pre-register for Spring courses in a month or so,” Glover said.
The Spring 2020 schedule had about 4,964 undergraduate sections, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando wrote in an email. That number is the baseline for Spring 2021. UF plans to release a revised class schedule in early November, and Spring registration will open Nov. 16.
But some faculty members and students can’t see where the rationale is coming from.
A petition rejecting UF’s plan to host face-to-face classes in the Spring was shared by United Faculty of Florida-UF, the faculty union, on Monday. It garnered almost 1,700 undergraduate, graduate, faculty and staff signatures as of Tuesday evening.
Paul Ortiz, the chair of UFF-UF, said the plan for face-to-face classes in the Spring is a punitive measure.
“If we’re doing our jobs poorly, then sure, punish us,” Ortiz said before the event. “But if we’re doing our job well, then we need to continue to be able to do our jobs.”
The plan for the Spring was agreed upon by the UF administration and the Board of Trustees, Glover said, with no explicit guidance from the State University System, which oversees the 12 public universities of Florida.
For face-to-face classes, students and professors will have an 8-foot circle of space around them, allowing for physical distancing throughout class, Glover said. An additional three feet will be in the front of the room between the professor and the front of the class.
Those will be taught through a “HyFlex” method, where professors can choose whether they want to deliver the course to both an online and in-person audience or tape them in-person and offer them for the online students to watch.
Instructors will also be provided with an N95 mask and disinfecting wipes for their classroom, though Glover said that, due to CDC guidelines saying contact transmission isn’t the main way the virus spreads, it wouldn’t be necessary after every class.
Glover also recommended that an online component should accompany those courses for students who don’t want to appear in person
If a faculty member gets sick, department chairs will have to make arrangements for the course to continue, Glover said.
“If even one of them has to go into quarantine or isolation, that's no different than a faculty member getting sick with the flu during an ordinary semester,” he said of faculty members.
COVID-19 has dominated on-campus operations this Fall. UF’s quarantine procedures were riddled with inconsistencies, leading to a response from UF administrators in The Alligator to improve its conditions.
It also forced UF to indefinitely postpone the Fall commencement until a vaccine is available — something that’s not required for in-person classes.
Still, UF has found ways to generate income, including allowing 17,000 people — 2,000 of whom are students — in stands for football games.
Glover said in the town hall that he understands faculty’s worries over in-person instruction, but those worries would be eased as they progressed through the semester.
He noted UF Health and other health science programs’ initial apprehension of getting back to work, but praised their commitment to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“UF Health is ahead of much of the rest of the campus in re-engaging with normal campus activities,” Glover said. “Others need to begin the process as well.”
Susan O’Brien, a 57-year-old history professor and signee of the petition, said she believes the added work is prohibitive.
“It’s not the flu,” she said. “We all know that we’re dealing with an unprecedented kind of virus and, at this point, unknown kinds of consequences.”