By Cady Inabinett
Concerns about student masking in academic buildings were raised at the Faculty Senate meeting on Sept. 10. Faculty representatives expressed frustration over inconsistency with student masking in academic buildings, with senators reporting they often have to tell several students a day to wear their masks while in academic buildings. Additionally, Senate President Dr. Ray Ozley said he has, “received messages from a few faculty” confused if they were allowed to enforce masking.
Ozley assured faculty that they are allowed to enforce mask wearing in academic buildings, as it’s university policy that masks be worn in academic buildings.
He reported that student vaccination rates are, “higher than what administration anticipated.” A recent student body survey reported that about 78% of responders are vaccinated. However, only about 30% of the student body has responded to the survey.
Additionally, he added that, “virtually no positive cases are from in-class contact.” Instead, most are coming from Greek organizations, athletics and commuter students.
Revisions to the academic dishonesty policy were still a point of discussion at this meeting. Dr. Andrea Eckelman, chair of the Academic Policy Committee, provided an update on some of the issues brought to the committee’s attention. Eckelman reported that there has been a “specific request” to outline what consequences an offender would face for their specific infractions and “a request to streamline the website” to make it easier for faculty to access the academic dishonesty policy.
Ozley suggested that, “more discussions about what constitutes plagiarism is needed,” as he has observed that students and faculty often have different perceptions about what counts as plagiarism.
Eckelman expressed her desire to involve Director of Student Conduct Tony Miller and SGA in the revision process while it is still in its early stages.
Following discussions at the previous Faculty Senate meeting, Ozley reported that the university has altered its COVID-19 paid leave policy for faculty members caring for family members. Faculty will now have an 80-hour bank of paid leave—replacing the previous policy that allowed faculty members paid sick leave for one COVID-19 related absence.
According to Ozley, this policy will not be applied retroactively, but will apply to future COVID-19 related absences for faculty. He went on to say the administration, “understood the need” for a revised policy and, “thought it was a reasonable request.”
Ozley reported that enrollment has increased about 3% from last year. With this increase in enrollment comes an increase in revenue for the university. Ozley outlined that the top two priorities for this increase in budget would be a 1% salary increase for faculty, as well as increasing the salary of the lowest paid staff members at the school.
He added that enrollment numbers, “look like they’re trending up again,” for next fall semester, as application numbers have increased about 8%.
However, there were concerns about sophomore retention rates. No numbers were given on how many sophomores chose not to return following the 2020-2021 academic year, but Ozley pointed towards COVID-19 related issues as the main factor in students choosing not to return.
Additionally, despite increased enrollment, Ozley reported difficulty filling on-campus, student-worker positions. According to Ozley, many students are choosing to work off campus for jobs with higher salaries. He added the university is doing, “some exploration to see if they can pay student workers more than they are now.”
Senators also discussed issues surrounding compensation for faculty members leading independent study programs. The main issue lay in a lack of clarity in what constitutes an independent study program. Dr. Steve Forrester pointed out that there are lot of different ideas among departments about what counts as independent study, saying there’s, “too many claims on it.”
Ozley summed up the issue, saying that faculty, “need some clarity and closure with this.” He added that university administration hopes to have this issue resolved by November, before going on to say, “if the student’s paying for it, and we’re working for it, we should get paid for it.”
Ozley also brought up concerns about student and employee morale, especially among employees working in student services. Ozley reported that, “last year suicidal thoughts among students tripled.” He did not specify where this information came from, but pointed out that this has caused the workload for counseling services to triple as well and lead to burnout in employees.
He pointed towards the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as being the largest factor in lowering morale, saying it, “feels like there’s never an end to this.” He encouraged faculty to brainstorm ideas on how to boost morale, as well as, “maybe be a bit more merciful than you have been in the past” with employees.