Statement on the Response to COVID-19

The last week has been extraordinarily difficult for so many in our community. As we make sense of our new reality and confront the uncertainty of what lies ahead, let us affirm some core principles that guide our collective work on our campus.

Support for Our Colleagues

As an organization dedicated to supporting faculty at UIUC, we express our solidarity with all of our colleagues across campus. Together, we find ourselves scrambling to meet the educational needs of our nearly 50,000 students who are now themselves scattered across the country in the midst of a public health emergency. Let us remind each other that we are not in this work alone. As we prepare to do our very best for our students, let us rely on each other for help, sympathy, and support.

We are all confronting the enormous challenge of facilitating a transition to online teaching by next Monday. We object to the notion that all faculty members can or must comply with immediate calls for making this transition. Effective online teaching requires significant preparation. It is unrealistic to expect that faculty can move in-person courses online quickly while still providing the quality of teaching to which we are all committed. Such a transition is especially difficult for faculty who now have to care for children whose schools have been closed and for elder relatives who are practicing social distancing and thus need help in meeting their everyday needs.

We proceed from the position that all faculty on our campus are fully committed to our students’ education and their overall welfare under these dire conditions. We thus support any faculty or executive officer who delays in responding, or refuses to respond, to administrative requests for immediate Excel tracking of class transitions to online formats.

A growing body of evidence suggests that traditional forms of teaching evaluation — such as ICES scores — fail to effectively represent the work that faculty do in the classroom, even under the best of campus conditions. The extraordinary circumstances we confront today, including the sudden imperative to change how we teach on short notice, will render Spring 2020 ICES scores even less useful.

We also call on executive officers and campus leaders to ensure that faculty’s consideration for reappointment, promotion, and related matters will not suffer on account of the time they lose due the additional care they provide or inability to make progress in their research.

Support for Our Students

As we scramble to transition to alternative modes of instruction, our campus must recognize the reality of unequal access to distance learning technology among our students. While some of our students will have the technological infrastructure required for successful distance learning at their disposal, many will not. It must not be the case that a reliable internet connection, possession of a personal computer, or facility with new tools like Zoom are now prerequisites for inclusion in UIUC’s community of learners. It is the responsibility of campus administrators to address these critical issues of student access, and to recognize that, for many of our students, online education cannot replace the in-person classroom.

For many UIUC students, this campus is home. We support the decision to keep housing and basic services available for those students who need to be here, in contrast to the immediate closures of residence halls on some other campuses. We must also recognize the considerable labor and risk that this decision entails for other members of our community, including our staff colleagues across campus.

We know that students not only call our campus home, but rely on employment — both on-campus and in the broader C-U community — to support themselves and members of their families. As a university we must do everything we can to ensure that the current public health crisis does not create further economic hardships for anyone in our community. To this end, we call on UIUC to continue paying students and other workers their full wages, even if they are unable to work or prohibited from working.

Solidarity with Other Campus Workers

As always, CFA stands in solidarity with other campus workers. We are mindful of the enormous and mounting burdens that these circumstances are placing on everyone who works at UIUC. For example, building service workers — among the most underpaid and precariously employed of our campus colleagues — are working overtime to keep all of us safe during an unprecedented public health crisis. Graduate students, faced with carrying out their teaching and research under these rapidly changing conditions, are currently in negotiations over wages with the UIUC administration. We stand with them in their efforts to ensure excellence in our campus’s working and learning conditions.

We Want to Hear From You

As with our teaching, our organizing in the midst of this crisis brings great uncertainty and new challenges. We believe that in addition to social distancing, solidarity is more essential than ever. CFA can only be as effective as our ability to hear from each other about the problems — and solutions — that emerge in our various corners of campus. Tell us what is happening in your units, what issues you face, and how we can support one another.

Published by CFA

The Campus Faculty Association (CFA) is an advocacy organization for faculty and other campus workers committed to shared governance, academic freedom, and a strong faculty voice on campus.

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