This piece was submitted by the GWU Faculty Association.
We are writing to you today with heavy hearts. We prefer to teach our classes in person, but many of us have filed requests to teach online this semester, for a variety of reasons we detail below. We have launched a petition requesting that faculty be given the choice to determine which teaching methods – on campus, online, some form of hybrid – works best for their circumstances, and here we share the reasons why. We are disturbed by the lack of actionable information provided by the University and share the many concerns expressed by students. Nevertheless, we write to you to express our hope that we can join forces and work together to have a safe and productive fall semester.
Despite multiple questions regarding technology, accessibility and cleaning supplies, we have been given no concrete logistical information to allow us to prepare our classes nor to determine whether in-person teaching will pose unacceptable risks to us and our families. We have been informed that classroom spaces will be set up to maintain 6-foot social distancing protocols, but we do not know what this entails nor what technology will be available in our classrooms. For rooms where distancing is not possible, groups of students will be expected to cycle between in-person and online instruction, but this so-called “HyFlex” model does not work for all courses, and no alternatives have been proposed. Several smaller classes necessary for your degree requirements have been slated for cancellation, but we have not heard updates in over a month as to whether they will be allowed to run.
We are deeply sympathetic to the concerns expressed by students about the rapid shift to online instruction in the spring semester and are committed to doing a better job of responding to this crisis this fall. But we are compelled to let you know that we are now nearly halfway through the summer and have not been provided with very basic information that we need to prepare to teach well. We will continue to do our best to provide you with the education you deserve, but we need officials to step up and allow us to plan in accordance with our pedagogical and personal needs. To be clear: we strongly encourage students to participate in the fall semester and are committed to making our classes worth your time and valuable resources. And just as we hope that faculty will be able to decide what is best for them, we agree that students should have the same flexibility. We hope you will join us this fall so that we can all advocate together for better living, working and learning conditions for both students and faculty.
We are also deeply concerned about the lack of information provided regarding COVID-19 prevention protocols on campus. Cleaning crews, drivers for the Vern shuttle and workers in essential services such as food preparation will be on the front lines of any outbreak, and University President Thomas LeBlanc’s reopening plan does not provide satisfactory details on protections for them. Many of us would prefer to teach online precisely because we want to protect these workers who make the University run. We therefore encourage you to maintain pressure on the University to support our most vulnerable populations. While this administration has not listened to many of the critiques presented to them, student opinion holds more power than either faculty or staff at GW, and we hope your voices can bring about positive changes.
We are also living with the daily threat of layoffs and contract non-renewals. Some of your favorite professors are still waiting for contract renewals, which should have been provided by now. Faculty are now being asked to prepare classes they don’t even know if they will be allowed to teach. Many of your dedicated adjunct professors have already been told that they will not have work in the fall, and staff have been warned that layoffs could be coming any day now. These shifts in policy are all the more egregious because LeBlanc has openly said that “layoffs are not a last resort” in crisis management – even after promoting values of care and “support” in his May 31 email in response to the Black Lives Matter protests. The administration has told us that there are many factors to consider in planning for the fall, but they have not proposed any alternatives to mass layoffs, such as additional pay cuts to more top-earning administrators, changes to administrators’ retirement contributions or even just not hiring the two additional senior administrators who were brought on board after announcing a University-wide hiring freeze.
In short, we fear that officials are using this crisis to accomplish their own long-term vision of changing GW (fewer students, less diversity) in a short-term, backhanded way. We encourage you to advocate for all faculty and staff positions on campus, as reductions in essential services such as technology support, cleaning and food preparation will leave us all more vulnerable to future disruptions. Faculty have prepared a pledge vowing to fight layoffs in any way possible, and we encourage you to think about ways you can fight this threat as well.
We readily admit that the University is facing an unprecedented financial situation – it would be irresponsible of us to deny that. The Faculty Senate estimates our budget shortfall to be anywhere from $85 million to $100 million next year. While we are unable to verify these figures due to lack of transparency from LeBlanc’s team, Chief Financial Officer Mark Diaz has confirmed that GW has secured a line of credit on good terms that can go up to $300 million. We acknowledge that such borrowing will have an impact on GW’s future, but we question the leadership that is openly putting GW’s real estate investments above the livelihoods of the people who make this university what it is for you, our most important community.
We look forward to seeing you again on Aug. 31, and we are committed to continuing to fight for the entire GW community. We genuinely hope that by working together, we can convince our leadership to reevaluate its priorities and put all of our people back at the heart of GW, where we belong.
The GWU Faculty Association
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This article appeared in the July 17, 2020 issue of the Hatchet.