ASU will encourage faculty to teach in person for spring semester

A University spokesperson said he believes the lack of students attending in-person classes is partly due to a lack of faculty teaching in classrooms

The University plans to encourage more faculty to teach on campus next semester to provide students more in-person experiences, but only if COVID-19 trends show it is safe to do so, a University spokesperson said. 

Jay Thorne, the spokesperson, said ASU would likely allow faculty the freedom to choose how they teach, but more "encouragement" will be given to get faculty back in classrooms. 

Encouragement does not mean incentives or bonuses, rather an effort to communicate "here are the things we are doing to support you" and saying "it really does make a difference to students if faculty are there and not remote," Thorne said.

The methods of support will be relatively the same as the fall semester, including an accommodation process for faculty. Any additional methods of support for faculty were not specified by Thorne.

Despite the University's goals, Thorne made clear in an email the "encouragement" will only happen if COVID-19 data supports more faculty returning to campus. 

"We continue to take things week-to-week and month-to-month," Thorne said in an email. "If cases are spiking and flu season is bad in January, we may not encourage this at all."

Thorne said the lack of in-person student attendance could be a result of the lack of in-person faculty. The hope of getting more faculty on campus, Thorne added, is that as they become more comfortable and return, it will lead to "more students in the classroom."

"It is still sort of unprecedented, and everything is a bit of an experiment, but there is focus, absolutely, on having people back on campus more in the spring semester than what we experimented with in the fall," he said.

In a Sept. 18 University-wide email, University Provost Mark Searle said accommodations to teach remotely would "continue unchanged in Spring 2021 but are subject to change as the COVID-19 situation evolves."

Deans of each college should also encourage faculty to return and "reassure people that with testing, distancing and face coverings, being on campus is one of the healthiest places you can be," Thorne said in an email.

A push to give students more in-person 'opportunities' 

The University made a "difficult" prediction regarding the willingness of students to attend in-person classes this semester, said Frederick Corey, vice provost of undergraduate education.

ASU believed classes would be filled with too many students, something that "never came to pass," and it now aims to bring more students into in-person classes in the spring semester "when they have that option," Corey said. 

Corey said he's heard from students who wish there were more in-person "opportunities." But given the pandemic, students generally prefer attending classes through Zoom, said Simin Levinson, a clinical associate professor of nutrition in the College of Health Solutions and president-elect of the University Senate.

Dante Sannelli, a senior studying film and media production, said he believes the University has done its best for students and faculty. Sannelli said he's taking classes remotely, but it has been frustrating to complete his capstone project. 

ASU Sync is the "most ideal situation" to learn in, Sannelli said. However, his workload has not been adjusted to fit in with other outside stressors of this semester, which include a rocky political climate and the coronavirus reaching every corner of the country. 

READ MORE: Spring semester to include same options as fall for attending class

Sannelli said he wants to be back in the classroom for his final semester at ASU but would only feel comfortable doing so if there's better communication about who might have COVID-19. 

In a meeting with University President Michael Crow last month, he said only 20% of students were coming to campus for classes. According to another University spokesperson, around 1,400 full-time faculty had requested an accommodation before the start of the fall semester. 

Nearly everyone wants to be back in the classroom, but they want to be able to do so safely, said Jenny Brian, a senior lecturer at Barrett, The Honors College and a member of the Community of Care Coalition, a group of ASU community members that formed during summer in response to the University's decision to allow students back on campus.

Brian teaches her three fall classes in person, but only one student shows up to the classroom. Many students do not feel safe returning yet, and having them attend in person and virtually led to difficulties in class discussions, prompting all but one to attend on Zoom, Brian said.

"I worry about the response to student dissatisfaction as being like 'Oh, well, we just need to get more people back in the classroom' as though that will fix things," Brian said.

Levinson said if students want to be in an actual classroom during the spring semester and it's safe, then many faculty will be there. How many people come to campus is not driven by faculty — it's "driven largely by students," she added.

"I don't think that it's a matter of faculty not teaching in-person classes," Levinson said. "It is more a factor of, there's still a lot of concern around the virus. There's still a lot of unknowns around the virus. And, you know, students want to protect themselves."


Reach the reporters at pjhanse1@asu.edu and wmyskow@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen and @wmyskow on Twitter. 

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