FA News 7/10/2020

Our latest newsletter can be found below, with some remarks on confidentiality re health records, the push to do 101 classes face to face, and the new ICE policy.

Confidentiality regarding health issues
In the negotiations currently going on between chairs/directors and faculty, many chairs have asked if faculty have health conditions that would put them at higher risk for serious effects from COVID-19. Most are doing so with every intention of trying to protect such faculty. But we would advise faculty to be cautious about sharing health information in a non-confidential format. Once health information is released, it could potentially be used against employees. While we have problems with the administration’s decision to employ the ADA process to deal with COVID-19, that process does at least establish a way of keeping health information confidential.
At this stage, then, when asked for your preferences regarding teaching, we would advise you to simply make your preference clear without explaining that preference, particularly if it is based on health concerns. If your supervisor is unwilling or unable to accommodate your preference, you could then raise your health concerns with the ADA office.
Please feel free to reach out to us if you have concerns about your health and safety, workload, or the fairness of the process being used to determine which classes go online and which go hybrid or F2F.  You may write me at dmj2@me.com or contact any other FA officer.
Forcing instructors to teach in person
The administration is moving to put ENG 101 and CMST 101 courses into a face to face mode. Instructors of these courses, who are overwhelmingly graduate assistants, will be under considerable pressure to teach in person. Graduate students are of course particularly vulnerable to such pressures; they are our lowest paid instructional staff, and may well be forced to choose between losing their assistantships or making decisions they believe compromise their health, that of their students, or that of others in their households. Many graduate students are accumulating considerable debt as they pursue their education here; almost all face an increasingly desperate job market upon graduation. Many graduate students are international, and facing still greater challenges thanks to recent redevelopments, as I’ll discuss below. Graduate students should not be singled out to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis on campus.
The decision to maintain face-to-face instruction for these 101 classes (along with those in Math) was made with no meaningful consultation with the affected departments or faculty as a whole. Instructor preference appears to be irrelevant in these programs, which are thus be singled out for disparate treatment. The campus task force that is supposed to weigh in on such issues has not even been formed. The administration has thus decided to pressure certain instructors, mainly graduate students, to put their health and safety at risk without even a pretense of shared governance.
There is a better way, one we suggested to the administration many weeks ago. At least when the administrative survey was done last month, many instructors were quite willing to teach on campus. It would be possible to allow both instructors and students to “opt-in” to face to face instruction, connecting instructors who wanted to teach in person with students who wanted in-person classes. A special effort could have been made to reserve spots for freshmen, and encourage freshmen to sign up for these classes. Instead of granting instructors and students this degree of autonomy, the administration has decided which instructors to push back into the classroom, and which classes students will be able to take in person. Under the administration’s policy, however, is very likely that 101 classes will feature instructors who do not want to be in the classroom with students who do not want to be in the classroom. This will not result in a positive learning environment.
The FA stands in solidarity with all instructors—TT faculty, NTT faculty, and graduate assistants, and we will do all we can, including in impact bargaining, to preserve our right to teach our classes in the way we determine is most effective and safe.
The Trump administration’s student ban
The Trump administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has announced a decision to require international students to take face-to-face or hybrid courses. The policy would force students whose institutions decide to go all-online to leave school and transfer (at a time when that would be difficult or impossible) or face deportation (at a time when international travel is difficult or impossible). The decision is clearly based on animus against international students and against the perceived liberal bias of higher education, and is also part of an ill-considered push to require all schools (K-12 and post-secondary) to reopen regardless of the risks this may pose to health and safety.
This policy could result in pressure for instructors to offer face to face courses that could more safely and effectively be taught online; it could also make it more difficult for SIU to decide to go all-online, even if the COVID-19 crisis continues to worsen.
SIUC is taking steps to minimize the impact on international students, but has yet to come out publicly against the policy. We hope SIU will do so soon; we are working with other IEA locals here and at SIUE to put out a joint statement.
SIUC will be able to face the COVID-19 crisis most effectively if we do so in a unified way. We in the FA are aiming to do our part by acting in solidarity with all instructors on campus and with our international students. We hope to be able to work together with the SIUC administration as well, but we will speak up, and act accordingly, if we believe the administration is taking actions we do not believe are in the interest of faculty, staff, students, and the Carbondale community.
In solidarity,
Dave Johnson
President, SIUC-FA

About Dave Johnson
I'm an Associate Professor in Classics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Among other things.

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