The Faculty Senate met this past Friday, Feb. 5.
The majority of the meeting time was spent discussing a letter written by the English and Foreign Language Department regarding the return to in-person classes for the Spring 2021 semester—veering away from the points outlined in the letter and focusing on the concerns faculty hold about mixed-modality classes.
The letter in question, which advocated for a later return to campus date for the semester, was sent to Faculty Senate President Professor Emily Gill, and College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean Dr. Ruth Truss, on Jan. 18.
It outlined some of the health concerns returning to in-person classes pose—pointing out that “Alabama has the lowest vaccine rate in the country,” that “Alabama continue to be very nearly overwhelmed” with COVID-19 patients and that “Alabama currently has no plan” to contain COVID-19. The letter also provided a list of sources and data to back up these claims.
However, the conversation at the Faculty Senate meeting veered away from the points outlined in the original letter; instead focusing on some of the issues mixed modality hybrid classes pose. For example, teaching hybrid classes where some students are in a physical classroom and others are coming to class via Zoom requires extensive multitasking on the professor’s end.
Some faculty believe that this will reduce the effectiveness of their classes—with Gill saying, “the general opinion of those advocating for an extension is it’s better to have a single delivery mode than concurrent, different modes.”
Additionally, some faculty felt as though some classrooms lack adequate, updated technology to make teaching hybrid classes effective. This can be related to the campus wide technology refresh carried out by Information Services and Technology department being halted and delayed by the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020. This delayed the schedule of faculty and classrooms set to receive updated technology, leaving some faculty feeling as though they lack adequate technology to teach mixed modality classes with maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
However, not all faculty in attendance shared the opinion that in-person classes should’ve been further delayed.
Some believed that having in-person classes was the most effective way to teach to students.
According to Dr. Carolyn Garrity, she feels “that learning is more likely to take place when students are in the classroom,” and that “when students are remote and on a computer screen, they turn into spectators instead of participants.”
Faculty also discussed concerns largely held by the University’s administration that halting or delaying in-person classes will cause students to be dissatisfied. These concerns include students feeling as though they are not receiving a “real college experience,” and become so dissatisfied that they will withdraw or not return in the fall.
Additionally, there is concern that delaying in-person classes will cause potential incoming students to lose confidence that the University will return to in-person classes for the Fall 2021 semester and may choose to attend a different school, instead.
Largely, the discussion around this letter and the topic of in-person classes was less of a call to action, and more of a voicing of concerns—as the original letter regarded students’ return for the spring 2021 semester that has already occurred now.
As Gill pointed out, there was “a little bump” in campus COVID-19 case number within the first week of student return to classes, but “they subsided quickly.” This, however, hasn’t alleviated some faculty’s feelings that their concerns are being overlooked for the sake of reopening or diminished their apprehensions about the effectiveness of mixed-modality classes.