It’s the first day of classes here at BU. Let me begin by wishing everyone a safe semester. One thing we can all agree on is that the less suffering there is this semester, the better. As a BU faculty member, I can also say that we all want students to enjoy the classes they will be taking. I am excited about the classes that I designed to teach online (they start tomorrow), and very much hope my students find them exciting as well.
I am hearing a great many complaints about classrooms. I am providing a space for comments below. From a BU staff member, I have heard this: “As of Monday, there were still 300 classes that did not have space to teach, the LfA equipment had not fully arrived yet, and, as folks are finding the air circulators to be too loud, they are now ordering Bluetooth headsets…” This follows a report of an independent and earlier communication to faculty in one college that said, “Rooms without an effective HVAC system have been outfitted with giant air circulators. They are working on outfitting them with mufflers because they are quite loud. Not all of them will have these mufflers, so BU is working on getting Bluetooth headsets for faculty to use. … If you’re affected, you will get a notification about Bluetooth headsets.“
So, in many cases, classrooms have not yet been assigned to courses. I know of one department (not my own), where this has led to a decision to move multiple courses online. I have also received multiple, independent reports of instructors being assigned small, badly ventilated, windowless rooms. Instructors may request to have a new classroom assigned, but there is, as I have already indicated, a serious backlog, and instructors may need to wait weeks for a new room to be assigned.
How have in-person classes that have rooms assigned to them been going so far? James Uden, an Associate Professor in Classical Studies, writes, “First class complete in the hybrid approach. I had 4 show up in person, 92 on Zoom. Unfortunately, it looks like the camera was trained on my increasingly sweaty armpit the entire time, and my tech ‘moderator’ never even arrived, but at least my voice was audible and the slides were visible, so far as I know. All in all, it was a strange experience. With your attention divided between students behind masks, and students behind blank Zoom screens, it’s hard to feel as though you’re ‘teaching’ at all.”
It’s very interesting to hear that only four students turned up to this class, while ninety two attended on Zoom. Knowing Professor Uden, I would say that if anyone can make a large LfA class work, he can (which isn’t to say he should have been put in this position). It’s possible that at this point a number of students are in quarantine. It’s too early to say for sure whether my prediction as to what is going to happen to LfA this semester is indeed going to happen. I certainly don’t regret writing, “Bear in mind that it will soon become apparent to students that if everyone opts to stay away from the classroom, instructors will be able to remove their masks, and the online alternative will then be more straightforward and relaxed. Indeed, instructors can and probably should begin the semester by pointing this out to students.”
Let me make one thing clear. Ordinary staff members are not to be blamed for the problems that are occurring. They are overworked and sometimes directed to do impossible, or near impossible tasks. When we encounter problems or delays, those of us who are not staff should always communicate with staff members politely, and never forget that the buck stops at a place far above their pay scale.
There is more I could report. Let me instead open comments here. I’d love to hear from instructors, students, and staff. What are some of the problems you have been encountering? Comments are moderated by just myself, so there may be delays before they are posted. Feel free to keep your comments anonymous by not entering your real name.
UPDATE, September 3: I am hearing that Bluetooth headsets began to be distributed to all that need them on Tuesday, September 1, and that there may no longer be a shortage of them (see also this report, which was published after my post). I have taken out some of the words in quotes above that might have conveyed a false impression. I continue to hear about cases where classroom monitors have simply not turned up to classes, without instructors being informed that there would be a problem. Also, I’m hearing reports of a significant scheduling issue that I did not address in my post: students are finding they don’t have enough time to get back to their dorm rooms to participate in online classes after finishing “in person” classes.