College faculty worry about fall, try to prepare for unknown

Every fall since 1996, Elizabeth Alm has taught BIO 580 Medical Microbiology to Central Michigan University students. The elective course teaches students – mostly pre-med and pre-physician assistant – how to work with disease-causing microbes.
Alm is used to reviewing and preparing for the class, but not like she’s having to do this summer for the class..
Out are the labs, all of them. In are additional clinical case studies.
Alm is dealing with a host of new responsibilities, concerns and uncertainties:
“I have had to re-evaluate everything I do in this course to make it highly flexible and ready to meet changing circumstances,” she said. “I have reexamined all of my student learning objectives, activities, and assessments. Every lecture will need to be ready to go face-to-face or online. I have to figure out how students will fully participate in team-based case problem-solving if they are not in the classroom. I have to figure out how to keep students who may be participating remotely for days or weeks engaged over that time. I have to be ready to support a student who is too ill to participate at all for some period of time. I have to figure out how to deliver examinations remotely. CMU has been putting new technology in the classrooms over the summer … I’ll have to figure out how to work all of the new equipment.
If I become infected and am too sick to even teach remotely, then I don’t know what happens.”
All across Michigan, university professors are engaged in the same process as Alm. They’re trying to figure out how a college class gets taught in a COVID-19 era. And how to stay safe while doing it. The answer? Generally, a collective “we’re not sure.”
All Michigan universities and colleges – public and private – have said they’ll have at least some of their classes this fall taught in a traditional face-to-face manner. But there’s no promises being made that even those classes won’t end up getting flipped into an online-only class somewhere down the road.
And those discussions about how to teach a class don’t even touch the tough conversations happening in the executive suites at each college – do we have enough money to stay afloat? Will students come back? How much will we have to cut? Will we have to cut faculty jobs?
“I really feel sorry for the administrators who are having to decide between basically people’s jobs and people’s lives,” said Kathryn Blanchard, a professor of religious studies at Alma College “We’ve been (running) on a shoestring for years. How much can we cut and still be us?”
Here’s the conundrum facing professors, as seen through Alm’s eyes. She enjoys interacting with students and when Central went online-only in the spring in response to the pandemic, she missed those conversations and connections. However, “my foremost concern as someone who is immersed in the world of infectious disease is keeping my students safe and healthy.”
Universities and colleges are trying to walk that tightrope, by introducing a mix of online-only, hybrid and face-to-face classes.
At Wayne State, for example, the mix is 20% traditional face-to-face, 46% remote and online; 2% hybrid and 32% individually arranged.
As for which classes will end up in which category, Wayne State President Roy Wilson told the Free Press those decisions are being made school by school and department by department.
“We want to be cautious,” said Wilson, who is a medical doctor as well.
More: Almost half of Wayne State classes to be offered online this fall
More: Michigan university campuses plan to open in fall despite COVID-19. What we know
Faculty are worried about their safety and the safety of students and the uncertainty isn’t helping.
The University of Michigan’s Faculty Senate conducted a survey of faculty on its campuses and released the results earlier this month. The survey showed no consensus among faculty.
The survey asked faculty “given what you know about current conditions and fall instruction, are you willing to teach in person this fall?” Nearly half, 48% responded no and 31% responded yes.
“Based on the narrative information people provided, there is much un…
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