Indiana University of Pennsylvania announced a comprehensive plan for the fall return of students, while faculty members expressed qualms about that plan.
“Our plan reflects what students have told us,” IUP President Dr. Michael A. Driscoll said Wednesday. “They want an in-person experience, and we know that teaching face-to-face is what we do best. We also recognize that for many students, learning in an online-only environment is frustrating and challenging. Some of our students do not have a safe home environment; others do not live in communities with infrastructure to support distance education.”
As detailed in a video on IUP’s website, there will be face-to-face instruction beginning Aug. 24 at IUP, but in a hybrid model with some classes involving technology, others being moved to larger spaces so as to maintain social distancing.
“I am anxious to see you back on campus instead of on a computer screen,” Driscoll said in a letter made public Wednesday. “I continue to be grateful for how everyone has adapted to our new way of doing business.”
Face coverings will be required; dining services will have take-out and delivery processes in place for students; and IUP’s Health Service will test symptomatic students and provide appropriate support in the case of a positive test for COVID-19.
“If we are to be healthy and safe, every member of the IUP community — students and faculty and staff members — must work together and follow the framework,” Driscoll said. “What each of us does will be critical to how the fall semester continues.”
On the other hand, the faculty union for IUP and other Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education institutions, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties announced a poll that found about three-quarters of those responding do not believe they can safely teach face-to-face this fall.
Of 4,800 union members sent surveys, 3,200 returned them. Of the latter, only 12 percent said they want to return to in-person teaching.
“My colleagues are anxious … and fearful … at the same time,” Dr. Jamie Martin, APSCUF president and an IUP faculty member, told the Gazette Wednesday. “I don’t think it is too much to ask to have a safe work environment. They want to teach, they just don’t want to get sick.”
Martin said the union has raised concern about the lack of choices a faculty member has, saying there are “so many heartbreaking stories from faculty who have family members with medical conditions.”
She said faculty members, “if you don’t qualify for flexible work options,” have to teach face-to-face or “take unpaid family and medical leave.”
The union said it is still processing results of the survey, which was conducted July 8 to 11. Martin said 13 percent of the responses came from IUP faculty members, but what they said was “very similar” to what was said in the overall response.
“I was not surprised by the number of responses that we received, but the results are sobering,” Martin said:
• More than 90 percent of those surveyed believe that students will not appropriately social distance in their residence halls or other social settings.
• Nearly 90 percent are experiencing more stress or anxiety about returning to campus, compared with the same time last year.
• More than 70 percent do not feel safe teaching or interacting with students face-to-face in the fall.
• More than 60 percent are very concerned about contracting COVID-19 or potentially exposing their family to it.
• About 40 percent reported having a medical condition that puts them at increased risk of severe illness as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — with more than half also living with or caring for someone who is at risk.
“The issue of how to safely return to campus for fall 2020, that’s our concern, too,” PASSHE spokesman David Pidgeon said in response to the APSCUF poll. “And that’s why the State System put forward a framework that emphasizes (CDC) and state health guidelines; the role individuals have in responsibly interacting with others on campus, through mask wearing, social distancing, and so on; and providing individual universities the flexibility they need to address unique community circumstances.”
Martin said the local APSCUF chapter, led by Dr. Erika Frenzel, is having regular meetings with Dr. Driscoll.
“We know there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for the fall semester,” Martin was quoted in APSCUF’s release about the survey. Likewise, a variety of plans likely will be found at the 14 PASSHE universities.
Last week, West Chester said it was continuing remote learning this fall, because it could not ignore the potential of bringing thousands back to its campus near Philadelphia.
Martin noted that “West Chester is in an area where they had more cases of COVID and are close to Delaware (one of 19 states where visitors to Pennsylvania must quarantine for two weeks),” but also that IUP has out-of-state students, as well as students from Allegheny and Philadelphia counties.
In the Poconos, East Stroudsburg announced Tuesday that it would move to remote learning for the fall.
Bloomsburg also planned to unveil its fall 2020 plan Wednesday, but held off on it because of Gov. Tom Wolf’s press conference announcing new COVID-19 related restrictions.
Clarion previously announced scheduling move-in dates to allow physical distancing, and that students will remain home or wherever they are staying after the Thanksgiving break and take fall semester final exams remotely.
“University plans for fall 2020 have been and will continue to be developed in consultation with local stakeholders, including faculty and staff,” PASSHE’s Pidgeon said, “and those plans provide pathways toward flexible working arrangements for faculty and staff who are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”
Back at IUP, Driscoll said cleaning and disinfecting is taking place on a regular basis, in accordance with state and national guidelines.
“We are putting in place signage, as well as physical barriers that prevent transmission of the virus,” the IUP president said. “We have worked to secure supplies to keep our facilities clean and sanitized.”
He also said IUP is a member of an Indiana County planning task force, “working and (continuing) to work with our community, and responding “appropriately to any status change in our county, region, state, or nation.”