With less than a month until classes start, UD has established many protocols to keep employees and students safe this fall. But some question if enough has been done. Photo from Pexels.com
With less than a month until the start of classes, the University is finalizing its plans for the fall semester. But some concern still exists about how safely UD can teach, learn and work in-person while COVID-19 persists.
UD’s Path Forward Task Force, which was first formed in May, has been pursuing one goal for months: to reopen campus for the 2020-21 school year. The Task Force is made up of more than 100 staff, faculty and students, and has formed several working groups to develop recommendations for how in-person operations can most safely take place. The four “critical path” working groups include academics, student life, protective measures, and infrastructure and operations, while several sub-groups work on more specific issues.
The Task Force has operated under eight guiding principles, with safety for UD’s community as the top priority. While leaders and members of the working groups were selected through nominations and appointment processes, the Task Force has offered multiple ways to hear opinions from all of UD’s members during their decision making. Examples include online town hall meetings, student surveys and an email address available for employees to submit their recommendations and concerns.
“For myself, I feel like I have been able to have a voice and share the concerns of others in the process even though I’m not directly on a working group,” said Dr. Anne Crecilius said, an associate professor in the department of health and sport sciences as well as the department’s interim chair. Crecelius is also a part of the University Budget Alignment Steering Committee, which was developed before the Task Force but has shifted focus to work closely with the back-to-campus planning.
Some faculty members have raised concerns about the plans to reopen campus. On July 13, a petition was released by the group UD Solidarity calling for further action to be taken by the University in preparation for the fall semester. Dr. Joel Pruce, an associate professor in the political science department and member of UD Solidarity, said the petition’s main priority is for the health and safety of UD employees.
“This is absolutely a matter of life and death,” said Pruce. “And I cannot overstate that.”
At the time, most of the Path Forward’s plans for returning to campus had been published for a few weeks. Provost Paul Benson, the co-chair of the Path Forward working groups, said there is much overlap between the petition’s demands and what has been done by the Task Force.
President Eric Spina echoed that viewpoint. “One reason I think we see a lot of overlap is the process we used to populate the working groups. The faculty and staff that are on our working groups come from really every corner of the University.”
The petition’s first concern was for faculty and staff members to be able to choose the modality of their job performance. The Task Force had already asked for the faculty’s preferences in late June about whether they wanted to conduct teaching online or in-person. Department chairs such as Dr. Lee Dixon of the psychology department had open discussions with each of their faculty members about safety concerns for either themselves or members of their household. Dixon said that chairs were told to make “the best decision for their department.”
“I don’t know what it’s like everywhere, but everyone in my department not only got what they needed; they got their preference,” Dixon said. “I didn’t feel like I had to make any difficult decisions because the people who had a preference, their preference made sense to me, and it felt like it was appropriate for the students.”
Another concern raised in the petition was for ample PPE to be available to all employees. Dixon is a part of the academic working group for Path Forward and said that supplies such as wipe dispensers will be available throughout the university for employees and students to keep their areas clean. Other protective measures for the classrooms include requiring facial coverings for all students, faculty and staff. Dixon said that department chairs in the College of Arts in Science were also asked to gather requests from faculty members for other equipment needs that would ensure safe and effective teaching. There will also be mandatory training videos for students and employees to complete before returning to campus.
Provost Benson believes that “overlap” between the petitions demands and the Task Force’s decisions “will increase as more decisions are communicated.”
Dr. Crecilius explained that the University has taken special attention to communication during this time and that not every member of UD will receive the same updates each time a decision is released. Crecelius said that controlling what information is sent out is a way for the Task Force to ensure no one is overloaded with information during a stressful time period.
“It’s not from a place of ‘we don’t want these people to know,’ it’s actually more from the place of we’re trying to not overwhelm people with information,” Crecelius said. “If everyone on campus was getting every update, that would be a crazy amount of information.”
While there are plans and protocols in place, Crecelius also said that everyone must be flexible as they return to campus, as there is much unknown about COVID-19 and how it will affect UD’s campus.
“A lot of this is highly nuanced, highly complex, broad-reaching decisions that take time and have to change,” Crecelius said. “Affording each other trust and grace that people are doing the best that they can I think is really key right now.”
UD Solidarity’s petition has reached over 300 signatures since it was first released. Its signees include Dayton employees as well as some outside of the UD community, such as Wright State professors.