Originally published June 9, 2020
On June 2, our university administration sent a multiple choice online survey form out to all faculty. The deadline for the survey was June 8. On June 7, one day before the survey deadline, university leaders sent out a letter and guidance instructions to all deans and department chairs, instructing them to pursue a policy of minimizing the provision of exceptions to Learn from Anywhere of a kind that might allow professors to teach online. It is left rather unclear what kinds of exceptions might be granted (at least one subsequent email sent by a dean to all faculty in a college specifies they must be “pedagogically-driven”), but it is not left unclear that there should be very few exceptions made. At no point are high risk groups, older faculty, or faculty with children mentioned, let alone is there any suggestion that belonging to some such group might provide grounds for exceptions to the policy requiring that all classes be taught in person. It is unfortunate that the university policy was further specified before the faculty survey was completed and feedback from BU faculty could be taken into account. So far BU faculty have received no general communications to the university community as a whole from our university leaders that seriously address faculty concerns regarding the welfare and preferences of faculty with respect to in-class teaching and COVID-19. Less importantly, we have received no substantive response from university leadership to the letter below (a signed version of which was sent directly by email to our upper university administration on June 2), although we have received many very supportive email messages from individual faculty members, for which we are grateful.
We would like to clarify some things about our letter in response to comments we have received, and briefly report on developments at BU. We wanted this letter to be highly focused and not overly long. Still, we now think we should have made it clear that our concerns to do with the interests of BU employees are concerns with teaching employees in general (“faculty” in a broad sense, if you like), including full-time and part-time lecturers, teaching fellows, etc. We very much would not wish to see the university moving the in-class teaching burden to teachers outside of the tenure system; we think that would be unjust. Regarding other BU employees (e.g. cleaners, cafeteria workers, grounds and facilities management), it’s important to recognize that it may be the case that some jobs cannot be done from home (unlike teaching, for many courses). We genuinely sympathize with employees in positions where they do not have the option of working at home. That being said, the fact that some employees cannot work from home is not a good reason to prevent other employees from working from home. Furthermore, lowering the population density of both students and teachers on campus and traveling through campus, by allowing many courses to be taught online, would significantly decrease the health risks for all university employees (as well as students) that remain on campus.