UIUC Campus Faculty Association Opposes Reopening

By Connor Ciecko

The Illinois Campus Faculty Association (CFA), a group that advocates for tenure-stream and tenured campus workers, on Tuesday released a statement publicly opposing any potential forthcoming plan to reopen the UIUC campus to in-person instruction for Fall 2020 because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The open letter states that having students return to campus from across the country and having interaction in close quarters will result in “conditions for what epidemiologists call a ‘super spreader event.’”  The letter also calls for the continuation of the pandemic pay protocol, which continued to pay all university employees their average paycheck amount regardless of what work they were able to do during the mandatory campus shut down.

Medical experts across the country – including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist – believe that a second wave of COVID-19 may be possible in the fall.  In a poll conducted by USA Today/Ipsos, one in five K-12 teachers said they would be unlikely to return to in-person instruction if classrooms are reopened and would potentially resign.  Regardless of the continued precautions taken, however, experts predict a resurgence in cases may be unavoidable. 

Other universities across the country have been sharing their reopening plans and urging others to do the same.  Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. has changed its academic calendar for the fall, currently planning on in-person classes from Aug. 24 to Nov. 24 and a transition back to remote learning after Thanksgiving for the end of the semester.  In addition to this, they plan to cut classroom occupancy by 50%, implement an intensive disinfecting policy, and put in place student-instructor minimum distances.

A Massmail was also sent on Tuesday by UIUC Vice Chancellor Andreas Cangellaris to provide an update on the planning process for fall classes at Illinois.  He stressed that operations will only resume at a level that the university is confident can occur in a safe way.  Alternative options will also be provided for anyone who is not confident themselves in the in-person environment.

“Given the current status of the pandemic and based on data models from our own researchers and others, we are hopeful that the fall semester will be delivered through some hybrid of in-person and remote delivery,” Cangellaris said.  “But if conditions require us to move to a fully remote semester, we must be prepared for that as well.”

The Massmail outlines a handful of ideas that are currently being discussed in the steering committee.  Some precautions students could see in the fall include not filling classrooms above 35% of their capacity, adding more online options, rescheduling classes to reduce congestion in hallways and making more use of empty spaces.  These decisions are being guided by questions of how to ensure the highest academic quality while keeping the campus community safe.

The university is still in the process of planning and indicated it will have a decision in mid-June based on guidance from health officials, state governance, and steering committee guidance.

Photo by Liam Dwyer