Faculty comment on UCO’s COVID-19 protocol

The Vista reached out to faculty across the five colleges at UCO in order to obtain an understanding of the challenges specific to each department as they adjust to the mitigation measures taken for COVID-19. The response varied from hopeful optimism to outright discomfort.

Gang Qian, professor in the department of computer science, spoke to The Vista about his concerns of teaching in-person.

“If you ask me, I would prefer online. Many students prefer in-person sections. I think the purpose here is to accommodate. In this case, put the students ahead of the faculty.”

UCO has attempted to prioritize student learning and student preference, some faculty would say, in spite of faculty concern. They are faced with unprecedented challenges, however, they’re the representatives of the “new normal”. Some of them question their ability to keep their students, families, and themselves safe from COVID-19.

Terry Williams, an assistant professor at the College of Business, told The Vista in an email on Friday, “I am confident and yes I feel prepared (or at least I will be by the first meeting of each of my classes!)”

She stated, “I know that everyone is working hard so that we are all prepared for all the challenges that await us this semester and we will all do our best!”

Michelle Johnson, graduate professor in the adult and higher education program, spoke about her excitement about the strange circumstances brought on by COVID-19.

“I am excited about this! I know it sounds weird … but it’s these states of chaos that bring out the best research. There is so much for us to learn about from this pandemic.”

Johnson spoke about graduate students being considered last in decision making at UCO, due to the ratio difference in undergraduate students and graduate students.

The changes in the academic calendar and the transition to online classes has worked in favor for Johnson’s classes. In this case, her students now have the schedule flexibility they’ve desired.

Responses to The Vista’s inquiries are varied, but they are consistent with the results of a survey distributed by the UCO chapter of the American Association of University Professors in mid-July.

It asked all faculty to rate various aspects of the university’s COVID-19 response plan.

At that time, over half, 58%, thought that faculty are not being adequately consulted as shared decision-makers for fall, compared to less than a quarter, 23%, who are satisfied with faculty’s role. 

AAUP President UCO’s Chapter, John Wood stated in an email,

“In the qualitative portion of the survey, most faculty seem concerned about face-to-face classes, the spread of the virus through the campus community, worries about students refusing to wear masks, and technological challenges for the fall.”

Based on the information in the AAUP survey provided by Wood: 45% are satisfied with the support UCO is giving them for the fall, while 35% are dissatisfied.  66% know who to contact about changes on campus in response to COVID. 

Information from the UCO chapter of the American Association of University Professors survey.

A little over half of faculty, 53% are satisfied with UCO’s timely communication on COVID, as well as the clarity of that communication, 47%, and the support they have received to help change their classes to online or remote options 41%. 

Most faculty, 94%, agree with the mask mandate requiring everyone to wear a face covering in all public places on campus.
Information from the UCO chapter of the American Association of University Professors survey.

“Other things many faculty noted that they appreciated have been the flexibility amidst the chaos, clarity of emails from the President, compassion and candidness of administration, and the wide resources to support us.  However, opportunities for improvement are also clear in these results,” Wood stated.

As faculty mentally prepare for the challenges ahead, it might help if they had a clear understanding of the risks to alleviate the stresses of not knowing, or “what-ifs”.

Johns Hopkins Risk Assessment Calculator
Source: https://www.opensmartedu.org/planning-tools/#guide

A “Self-Assessment Calculator” has been created for universities to identify and understand their baseline risk and the impact that risk reduction steps — social distancing, PPE, contact tracing, testing, etc. — may have on scores.

UCO scored as a moderate risk under the calculator due to many factors. The answers from the assessment can be verified through the UCO 2018-2019 Factbook.

Adrienne Nobles, vice president for communications and public affairs commented the current Factbook does not reflect the safety changes made to the campus over the summer.

The risk was reduced from high to moderate once the summer changes were calculated.

The calculator was created by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and Tuscany Strategy Consulting.

The steps outlined in the reopening plan cover some of these factors, however Broncho faculty have shown concern about the return to campus.

Jerry Green, assistant professor at UCO and a 2020 Vanderford Teaching Award recipient, emailed with The Vista on Friday. Green stated,

“I wish faculty had had a role in deciding what we were going to do this semester, and how to implement it, but we didn’t. Now we just have to
do our best and find what works, just like our students have to do.”

Trevor Cox, assistant professor and program coordinator for the organizational leadership degree, teaches online courses. In an email to The Vista on Tuesday he described some of the hardships from teaching exclusively from home with a young family.

Cox stated, “It was incredibly difficult to keep my head above water in the Spring when we were working entirely from home. At least now I can go to the office a few days a week and get things done.”

“I know many of my students face the same challenges and have extra anxiety they bring with them to the classroom and that shows up even online.”

When asked about their risk, 35%, of faculty said they were currently in a vulnerable population, and 41% said they were a caregiver for someone in a vulnerable population.  This is also borne out by the age of our faculty:  18% report being in their 50s, and another 20% report being in their 60s or older.

Information from the UCO chapter of the American Association of University Professors survey.

Marvin Ludium, J.D. said he has “a lot of concern” as we begin the fall semester. He teaches all required business law courses at UCO, as well as electives including International Law and Legal Writing.

“I am immune-compromised because of MS. For me, this is deadly serious,” Ludium said.

Ludium told The Vista he would prefer face-to-face but the current climate does not allow for it. He also stated he was worried about the potential of the technology needed for, “17,000 UCO students [who] attempt to use them all at once.”

Ludium misses the human interaction. He has been self isolating at home since March. He spent the time preparing his classes for distanced learning, but Ludium is concerned about not being able to “read the room” and know if students comprehend. “That ability is lost with recorded lectures, but it is the best choice with the options available.”

Green also wrote about his main concerns regarding the teaching approaches for the semester.

“My biggest concern is that the hybrid model we’re using is trying to please everybody, but won’t actually work well for anyone.”

Green elaborated on the two options of face-to-face versus online teaching.

“Unfortunately, these two sets of best practices are different, and often incompatible. For instance, online learning goes best asynchronously, and face-to-face has to be synchronous. Face-to-face teaching is often spontaneous, while online teaching has to be strategic and scheduled.”

Green did express confidence in faculty members’ ability to make the semester a success, but the strain on resources certainly presents some of the biggest challenges.

“I keep hearing faculty say that it is the first time in their career that they are not excited about the first day of school, and it is heartbreaking.”

This article has been amended to clarify the risk score above to reflect more accurate information as of 6:06 p.m. 08/19/2020.

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