Florida faculty union says it's still too soon for in-person classes

A faculty union in Florida is urging state officials to offer university classes online this fall.

Colleges and universities across the state have released their own plans for reopening, some of which include a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online classes.

Faculty members from Florida universities sent an open letter to state officials urging them “to issue directives to transition all of Florida’s Institutions of Higher Education to remote learning.”

The letter was sent on behalf of the United Faculty of Florida, a union that represents more than 20,000 faculty members at all 12 public universities in the state of Florida, 14 state and community colleges, and one private college: Saint Leo University.

“As our forty public Institutions of Higher Education in Florida serve about 1 million students, are we willing to risk the deaths of 2,000 students, and willing to hospitalize 25,000 more? Are you willing to risk their futures? And what about the more mature faculty, staff, and administrators whose mortality rate is even higher?” the letter stated.

In the letter, UFF President Karen Morian and First Vice President Jaffar Ali Shahul Hameed highlight the daily number of coronavirus cases the state saw in July. Morian and Hameed indicated these statistics should serve as ample evidence for classes to be completed online in the fall.

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“If our institutions become hot-spots due to early re-openings, closing campuses mid-term once again would do real harm, mentally, physically, and economically. Bringing faculty and students back to college and university campuses in the fall may achieve a Pyrrhic victory, at best,” the letter states.

Over the past couple of weeks, universities across the state of Florida have released their own fall reopening plans.

However, according to Morian and Hameed, “our faculty, students, their parents, and community members are concerned that these plans were developed 6 to 8 weeks ago, when COVID-19 conditions in Florida were decidedly different and no longer reflect our state’s current pandemic conditions.”

In an email sent to students on July 10, University of Florida Provost Joe Glover, Chief Operating Officer Charles Lane, and Vice President for Student Affairs D’Andra Mull shared that “across all undergraduate, graduate and professional courses, 35% of the sections are scheduled to be held in face-to-face or hybrid modes” while “an additional 35% of the sections are scheduled to be delivered in a synchronous, online format.” 

They stated that “if the incidence of coronavirus improves during the Fall term, these courses could become face-to-face courses simply by assigning a meeting room.”

A second-year marketing major at the University of Florida, Ana Jaramillo, does not agree with this plan, telling Campus Reform that she believes “remote learning is the only option universities and colleges can take to completely ensure the health and safety of its stakeholders.”

“I think it’s very inappropriate to reopen without having a clear picture on how to help infected, as well as the proper infrastructure to do so. The fact of the matter is that college-age students are not immune from this virus, or ‘almost immune’ like our president has claimed. People can and will get sick as a result of the reopening. That’s inevitable” Jaramillo told Campus Reform.

[RELATED: Grad employees protest Penn State return to campus with ‘die-in’]

That’s why she made the decision to stay home in the fall and complete her classes online. 

Jaramillo told Campus Reform that she didn’t want to take the risk.

“Although I’m sad I won’t be living on-campus in [the] Fall semester, it’s the safest option I can take to avoid getting COVID and spreading it to others,” she said.

And it seems as if faculty at the University of Florida is not prepared to go back either. 

According to a survey conducted by the University of Florida chapter of UFF, 71 percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement that “Fall 2020 is too early to reopen the university.” Furthermore, 72.9 percent of survey respondents disagreed with the statement that they “trust the university’s ability to protect our faculty, staff, and students from the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

The University of North Florida in Jacksonville has taken a similar approach to UF’s reopening plan, though not as specific. 

According to its reopening plan posted on the school’s website, “some courses will be switched to fully remote instruction (this will not add any additional fees), some will remain face-to-face (this will vary depending on the major, etc.) [and] others will incorporate both in-person and remote learning resources.”

UNF student Michael Aparicio, a third-year criminal justice major, told Campus Reform that he has made the decision to return to campus in the fall because he believes the university setting helps him maintain his mental health and he performs better through in-person classes.

Aparicio told Campus Reform that “while I personally have no problems with an online setting, if it were to move to online, then I don’t think it would be fair for universities to charge students full tuitions.”

United Faculty of Florida President Karen Morian told Campus Reform that although she doesn’t expect tuition rates to decrease because of the coronavirus, she does hope that some of the on-campus fees are waived.

“As the pre-pandemic tuition rates for online courses was [sic] the same as for face-to-face and hybrid courses, I do not expect the administrations of our 40 public Institutions of Higher Education here in Florida to reduce those rates,” said Morian. “I do know that some have waived the additional online course fees. However, I would hope that the large amount of ‘fees’ our students are charged for on-campus programs and services will be reduced as students will not be benefiting from them. But I have heard no details on that.”

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