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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

UF is lying to students about face-to-face classes. Here’s what an instructor wants you to know

Opinions generic
Opinions generic

Dear UF Students, 

When I finish teaching my Zoom classes, I check my attendance, I read each student’s name and I worry about them. 

I worry because I hear my students talking about next semester. Some of them are freshmen, and they’re excited to finally move to Gainesville. Others, upperclassmen, may look forward to being in seminar classes again. Some students believe that our return to campus will give them a better learning experience. UF has tried to convince us that it has students’ best interests in mind as we return.

I worry because UF is lying to students, and there’s nothing that instructors like me can do about it. 

Students, you deserve to know the truth, and UF has failed to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about your studies before it’s too late. Many of you are looking for spring leases. Many of you are planning to celebrate milestone events and rejoin student organizations in Gainesville. So, what do you need to know? 

First, most students won’t return to campus. With classroom capacities capped but a directive from our state government to have the same number of in-person sections, UF is relying on a model of teaching called “HyFlex.” The “HyFlex” model of teaching means that in smaller classes up to 40 students, there will be a single digit number of students physically in the classroom. Awkward, I know. The rest of the students will watch the lesson from a webcam. Instructors will teach two classes (one online section, one face-to-face) without being paid for the double workload. Because your instructors will be doubly as busy, you will likely receive less personal attention and feedback from those instructors. Which students will be in the classroom? Likely, international students or honors students will be given these in-person spots. Other students may not have the choice to opt-in for face-to-face classes, even if they wanted to. The rest of you will have to pay extra distance learning fees just to watch the lecture from home.

Second, the university has promised that all classrooms will be cleaned and well-ventilated. This is another lie. While UF has installed hand sanitizer units throughout academic buildings, administrators have not stated how these classrooms and desks will actually be cleaned. Many classrooms, such as some of those in Turlington and Matherly, don’t have windows or other adequate ventilation options. As numerous health professionals and journalists have noted, environments without windows or strong ventilation are dangerous. The virus sits, stagnant in the air.

Third, UF has boasted about the quality of its HyFlex classes. I have taught for almost seven years, and I have a professional interest in instructional technologies. UF may promise that each classroom will be equipped with the technology to host a HyFlex class, but this is (ding, ding, ding) another lie. UF has not yet trained instructors like me on how to use this technology. Many of us are planning our courses for next semester without knowing any details about how to operate a HyFlex class. To our knowledge, UF has not purchased this technology yet. We haven’t seen it, and we have no clue when — or even if — the university will actually install webcams and microphones in each classroom. We are not being reimbursed for buying our own technology to teach. Most classrooms at UF are simply not optimized for online teaching. Think about it, students. Imagine how many times you’ve been kicked off Eduroam or the guest network or how many times you’ve struggled with the library VPN. UF cannot maintain the technology it currently has. 

Fourth, UF has said that students, staff, and faculty want to return to campus. However, UF never released a university-wide poll to ask students what they want before President Fuchs announced this transition to have face-to-face classes. UF has not grappled with the reality that the students I care about, the students I see every day, will get sick.

The university has not asked instructors or staff if they want to return, either. Instructors have no choice. One of my colleagues is regularly exposed to the virus because her spouse works with COVID-19 patients in a hospital. She isn’t exempt from teaching in-person. Other colleagues are caring for parents with cancer. They, too, are being forced to teach in-person, forced to put their family members (and you, students) at risk. To my knowledge, most instructors who have requested COVID-related accommodations under the ADA have been denied.

UF has tried to convince us that we, the Gator community, want to have face-to-face classes. This is perhaps the most disgusting lie of all. 

You deserve to be in the know, students. Some of this information will likely change if the virus peaks again, if the university encounters other funding issues or if UF is shamed into rethinking its reopening plan. Ask administrators what your learning situation will be like next semester. Question your dean about why UF is not being transparent.

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Gators, we deserve better. And that’s no lie. 

The author is a doctoral student who currently teaches at UF.

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