An F20 With In-Person Teaching: Your Thoughts on Personal Risk

We need to understand more fully what  opening-without-vaccine might mean for vulnerable faculty and staff. What are the hidden pressures that might compel a person to come in to campus  despite unacceptable levels of personal risk? What  defines “unacceptable risk”? What about a non-vulnerable individual who lives with a vulnerable individual? Should  accommodations be available  for the asking or does there need to be some kind of approval process?

Please share your thoughts below. They are totally anonymous unless you identify yourself in the posting itself.

All comments through May 17 in a single  pdf.

 

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285 thoughts on “An F20 With In-Person Teaching: Your Thoughts on Personal Risk

  1. Given the well-established near-certainty of transmission in classrooms (see Kim Weeden’s work) and other enclosed spaces that are shared for an hour or more at a time, I think it would be insane to return to in-person teaching, unless (1) a vaccine is available and (2) only vaccinated and tested people are allowed to be present. The above applies independently of my personal circumstances (both myself and my wife are over 60, with medical conditions that exacerbate the risk).

    1. I agree. It’s not just large auditorium size classes that are the problem but also smaller ones. I teach 45 students for one course and 20 students for another in small classrooms where it’s always very tight. We are often in too close proximity even in seminar rooms. And then students often come up to their instructors after class to ask questions that are more private, or hand us papers and forms. We would not be returning to in-person teaching as it was before. It CAN’T be what it was before. So, what does the pedagogical value of teaching in person under these circumstances (in traditional lecture or seminar classrooms) look like now? How can we attend to our students’ learning, build relationships, facilitate mastery of course content and critical analyses, all when are trying to stay as far away as possible from our students. Under these unprecedented circumstances, I would rather teach online.

      As we all know, how each person’s body responds to this virus seems to be a roll of the dice. I do not want to risk my life (especially as I have an underlying condition). My colleagues have outlined conditions for return below, including testing/tracing, hope of effective treatment in absence of vaccine, vaccination (when available), etc. I agree with these.

    2. It seems to me that this would only be insane if we don’t have a means of actively checking for infection in our community. If we are doing aggressive testing for infections (by having everyone check their temperature several times per day, including for others in their household), and using a 15m Covid test (the new saliva one) for anyone with even the smallest symptom that could suggest Covid, we might be able to keep the “in the wild” rate very low. At that point teaching on campus wouldn’t necessarily be insane.

      It would be insane now, but this is because we would be working in the dark with near certainty that some students came back with infections. So the key thing that would shift it from reckless to a managed, potentially acceptable risk is aggressive testing, in several forms. Of course, today, we lack that at Cornell. But perhaps by August we would have it, at a price and on a scale that would be viable.

      1. The solution* to this problem: we return to campus provided each of us carries a loaded gun.

        *poetic

      2. I am currently on leave in a small country where we have been mandated to take our temps 2xdaily since Feb, were banned from traveling, the gvt can track (and does track) *everyone*, and the population has been known for being compliant with state requirements – yet numbers are still soaring. How do we expect this to work at Cornell, with a large population of (by definition) unruly students, inevitable contact with the community, un-detectable asymptomatics, and no ban on travel?

        The idea that careful screening will help prevent spread is faulty. Careful screening only helps mitigating and managing (at best). How about those who get infected in the meantime?

      3. Treat the campus like a separate country with borders and travel restrictions. Temp screening, Testing , PPP, social distancing when possible, quarantining & contact tracing.

      1. I agree how many ICU beds are there is Tompkins county? Return of the students and only a very minor increase in cases could readily overwhelm local health care resources.

    3. Dean Boer explicitly excluded this possibility at this time – and surely its cost/logistically prohibitive?

  2. I am in a department where there is a heavy laboratory component that requires intimate interactions among students that make up groups, and between the TAs, faculty and students. These interactions are such that we sit together around a setup trying to make it work. This means close proximity (few inches) away from one another working on the setup. This clearly creates an environment where a contagious disease like COVISD-19 is easily shared.

    1. It seems to me that Cornell administration should be spending the summer ramping up the network capacities, sterile rooms that are reserved, used, then sterilized again, for staging and recording lectures and lessons that can be accessed remotely and supplying all faculty and students with technology to excel at remote learning.

      The bottom line is if campus life resumes and another outbreak occurs, the money lost in sending students home and shutting down again will be far worse because of the backlash, law suits and drop out rate. Better to train faculty and staff on online instruction and prepare for a year of excellent online and remote teaching and instruction.

  3. Faculty and staff should be managing whatever levels of risk ourselves, not the tuition paying, unlikely to be symptomatic students. They need the most normal experience we can provide. So if you have/feel risk, teach from home into the classroom where students can discuss/work together. If we assume all students are infected and behave appropriately, students (except the very vulnerable) won’t need to worry about each other unless they want to (which will be acceptable as the faculty/staff are doing it). I am in a risk category, but I would rather protect myself from the students than the students from me or each other.

  4. I would return to in person teaching if the following were done.

    a)The University obtain and provide testing to every student and faculty, on demand
    b) Provide an on campus location for students and faculty to self quarantine should it be necesary—- (so that faculty families don’t get it)
    c) ensure that there is a plan for enough medical beds at local hospitals should we have an outbreak.
    d) devise contact traing measuresinside the university
    e) alter class timings to spread out students in larger classrooms so that social distancing can be maintained.

    1. I agree and would add testing should be done 2x/week for those students, faculty and staff who have an increased risk due to exposure to students as well as a robust contact tracing like an app on the phone that does not collect personal information but alerts the iphone user that they have been exposed and to self quarantine and get tested. Over the memorial break I saw several “beer pong” parties with groups of students-no masks in the surrounding neighborhoods of Cornell! Students will party, travel and not understand the consequences to others so very specific instructions need to be spelled out.

    2. I agree and would add testing should be done 2x/week for those students, faculty and staff who have an increased risk due to exposure to students as well as a robust contact tracing like an app on the phone that does not collect personal information but alerts the iphone user that they have been exposed and to self quarantine and get tested. Over the memorial break I saw several “beer pong” parties with groups of students-no masks in the surrounding neighborhoods of Cornell! Students will party, travel and not understand the consequences to others so very specific instructions need to be spelled out.

  5. Thanks for asking. I would prefer to continue to work primarily from home. My household consists of 3 people, two over 60 and my 90 year old mother. Until there is a prospect of vaccine, or robust therapies, I feel I would be putting us all at risk to be in contact with a fully populated campus. My position requires staff oversight and facility access, so I would like to arrange a work flow and safety system that would allow me to work on campus periodically.

    1. I’m in a similar situation in terms of age and health. Though I suspect campus is likely to be at least partially open with some (perhaps smaller?) classes held in person, I expect to continue limiting social interactions, to protect my wife and her aging mother with whom we interact regularly.

  6. Both faculty and students should have a choice as to teach virtual or in-person. No faculty or staff member should be told they have no choice but to take a risk. No faculty or staff member should be forced to disclose confidential medical concerns about themselves or family members. No faculty should be made to disclose why if they opt to chose to teach virtually – the reasons are obvious.

    As a tenured faculty member of the school, I was greatly disappointed to received an email from administrative staff informing me that my course in August was planned to be in-person unless they hear from the university that it has to be virtual. The administrator went on to say how only on university guidelines will they hold the class virtually and the safety of the students were of the utmost importance. At no point was my own safety recognized in this several paragraph email. I am not willing to teach in person in August.

    Several faculty I know have confided that they will refuse to teach in-person classes at the start of the Fall and late summer classes. They have not openly voiced their concerns to their chairs due to fear of repercussions. If they become sick or the students become sick, the reputational effects will be horrendous and the financial fall-out of scrambling to make the classes virtual or finding replacement faculty at the last minute is worse than planning for a virtual Fall semester.

  7. It is hard to comment on in-person teaching without knowing what the plan is. Will there be sufficient staff to continually sanitize offices, classrooms, bathrooms, dorm rooms, and communal spaces? Will there be regular testing for everyone in the community, not only those who are symptomatic? What are the plans for isolating those who test positive (and who can transmit the virus even if they do not show symptoms)? Will students be sharing rooms? Will/ how will use of masks, social distancing, handwashing be assured? Will the university be allowing high risk events such as parties to take place? How would such events be prevented?

  8. Given the likelihood of continued spikes in COVID-19, I believe that opening for in person classes in the fall poses too much risk—for both teachers and students, and all those who are in close contact with them (though of course we can monitor what happens, and decide later if it’s possible to open). We should be prepared, however, to continue with on line classes, despite the inferiority of such approaches.

  9. If trends continue and Cornell has a plan for testing returning students as they arrive I am fully prepared to teach in person. Online is not tenable for a semester. The alternative is delay “fall” semester until the time we can return safely. Once students return they should not leave until the semester is over. If Cornell cannot test returning students, staff and faculty on arrival then we should start only the first two weeks online. All faculty and staff should reside in the greater area. We should not have people going back to NYC.

    1. I like the idea of starting online for the first few weeks until we gain a better sense of whether or not returning students bring with them a new wave of the outbreak. If we are still maintaining a low level of transmission in our on and off-campus community, we should resume in person instruction. However, once students arrive, they should not return home for break, and if they do, they need to quarantine for two weeks. We also need to consider that any student who tests positive will need to self quarantine regardless, thus we will be obligated to have an online component to our instruction. I don’t see a way around that point.

  10. I share the desire to return to live teaching especially since my classes depend on student interaction. But I feel the same way as writer #5. The tragedy of the squandered months which did not produce the ability to test, trace and isolate make it impossible to think of teaching live this fall. I would be willing to take risks myself, but I live with someone right in the crosshairs of vulnerability.

  11. If I expose myself to classroom, I have to isolate myself from my parents who depend on and need me. And I need to be with my family.
    This has to be only an “Opt in” choice for those faculty who want to voluntarily be on campus. The choice is only to the person alone.
    We should be evaluated based on our contribution and not if we opt to be in physically in the classroom. So this is fair to everyone and free of pressure that may directly or indirectly pose risk not to faculty but their family with vulnerable situation.

    1. I agree that an individual teacher must be given the choice to “Opt in”. But for students as well, each must be given the option to “Opt in” for in=person return

  12. Certainly concerned about returning for risk to me and then those vulnerable in my home that might be at risk. Lets get a Faculty SOP for “clean” classroom practices, same for students, clean university, etc…maybe some quarrentine space for faculty? then we have to have some testing and tracking by then….and accept some risk. As Brian Cranston said in Argo. “this is the best idea we have sir “. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6H454-u4yI

  13. Dear n. 7: meet one. Sure, it would be great to be back in the classroom and no one wants to see Cornell take an even greater financial hit but these are not times to make assumptions based on past experiences.. I take care of two elderly parents and have a vulnerable individual in my household. Will I have to move into a separate apartment for the year so I don’t risk infecting my loved ones? When you say “we” who are you speaking for?

  14. Any faculty who considers they are at risk should be able to choose teaching remotely. There should be no official “approval process” because there may be many health conditions or aged-related factors. We do not need more bureaucracy in a crises. Getting approval for a disability is hugely time-consuming and some conditions may not fit the official pattern. Trust each one’s judgement.

  15. I would like to teach in-person but am reluctant to risk it. I have three young children and would hate to risk my life. My wife does not have steady work and if I died or was incapacitated, my family would be royally screwed. I realize the financial constraints for the university. I am hoping there is some way to meet the financial needs of the university but not risk lives. With students coming from all over the world and many from the NYC-Westchester area, it seems likely that we could have an outbreak of COVID-19. It would be great to wait for in-person classes for a vaccine, but we don’t know there ever will be one.

  16. I am looking forward to teaching in the fall. We should follow the data and practice safe ways to teach in person. As a scientist and educator, we know how to work with bacteria and viruses in a bsl2 facility and we do so safely. By putting the proper protocols in place, we can practice safe and effective in-person teaching in the fall. The key is to understand and mitigate the risk, given our key responsibility to our students and society. This virus will live with us forever and we can’t hide away from it forever. It is not crazy to return to teaching in person. In fact, it is our responsibility (as long as we do so safely).

    1. I agree with your assessment. However, those who feel they must opt out of in-person instruction ought to be permitted to do so.

    2. Agree completely, I would love to be back and teach in the fall in person. This community is quite conscientious and will undoubtedly undertand and do everything to mitigate the risks.

    3. I agree with the dual options of (1) in-person teaching provided there are adequate PPE free to students and faculty plus between-occupancy protocols in place or (2) the option for faculty in situations that include vulnerable people to teach remotely. For me personally, my teaching is in small classes (about 20 students) and I would feel comfortable in a large room, wearing masks, and protocols that limited close contact. I will add that I’m in my 50’s but on Humira which is an immunosuppressant and adds to my vulnerability especially with pneumonia.

      Based on spring 2020, many students displayed restraint in whether they came to class given their morning symptoms. I’m not sure though that enough of the students would comply to ensure an outbreak was avoided. Weekly (or more frequent?) mandatory testing for students and faculty would ease many fears.

    4. I too would love to return to my in-person classroom; I also agree about the importance of following the data. But all of this depends on consistent collective adherence to protocols at a scale that is larger than and less under control than in laboratory settings. I am not confident that protocols alone will offer enough protection.

  17. While, I understand that there is a health risk involved in classroom teaching, I am comfortable working with faculty and students in a live, personal setting. I’m hoping that Cornell might offer 2 options for faculty, staff, and students. One option is to meet, work, and study live. The other option is to work online. This of course comes with problems and concerns as well as solutions. I suggest this as way forward that includes all people involved.

    1. I agree that faculty should have the choice to teach online or in a classroom commensurate with the risk that he/she is willing and able to accommodate.

      My strong preference is to re-conceptualize the classroom by providing outdoor space for teaching using available technologies, e.g. tent awnings and space heaters. There is a strong pattern in the data that outdoor environments are safe (if combined with social distancing and face masks) versus nearly all transmissions occurring indoors.

      I teach my dept.’s large lecture course (200 – 300 students) and can envision doing so under an awning with open sides and space heaters at venues such as athletic fields, libe slope, or the Botanic Gardens. Such a venue could deliver a symbolic message that the virus is lurking and that we must change our social behavior to survive.

  18. We need to be –and want t0 be– back in person. It’s an existential question for Cornell’s mission and survival, and ours too as academics at a premier research institution in the world that promotes close collaborations and unexpected interdisciplinary links.

  19. While, I understand that there is a health risk involved in classroom teaching, I am comfortable working with faculty and students in a live, personal setting. I’m hoping that Cornell might offer 2 options for faculty, staff, and students. One option is to meet, work, and study live. The other option is to work online. This of course comes with problems and concerns as well as solutions. I suggest this as way forward that includes all people involved.

  20. I was struck by the discussion in the link below.

    My impression is that even socially distanced, masked, lecture halls will be a higher risk environment.

    I expect that many instructors, esp. older instructors, will view the prospect of in person teaching with substantial anxiety, barring significant advance with regard to mitigation, vaccine, or therapeutics.

    So I think people would want to be convinced that there is a significant gain from moving from distance (Zoomed) learning to socially distanced in person teaching this fall. (Which, after all, is likely to be pretty uncomfortable).

    There may be such gain, of course, in terms of both pedagogy and revenue, but a convincing public case for this will be very helpful, if it comes to that.

    https://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2020/05/more-on-situations-where-there-is-a-higher-risk-of-infection-with-the-new-coronavirus.html

    1. While I am a younger faculty, I have a health condition that I have not disclosed to my colleges. I hope the choice of returning to campus is not set by age. This would force me to have to disclose health information that is against my will.
      People should be given a free and nonjudgmental choice.

  21. The science of coronavirus has not changed. Nothing is better today than it was in March; worse, in fact, because we have more total infections. Loosening of travel restrictions will only exacerbate the problem.

    The time to “re-open” is when testing and contact-tracing are widely available. This was the cornerstone of Phase 2 strategy, until the pandemic actually happened. Personal attendance at school is therefore unacceptable until on-demand testing and contact tracing is available in Cortland county. When those things are available, I will be willing to return to campus. A premature opening would force me to resign.

  22. Hey, I’m an English prof. In-person teaching should be out of the question for fall—I can’t believe it’s still being considered. Every college in America will become a viral hotspot if the students come back, and it will kill many people. There will be major labor disputes if you ask faculty to return, and huge lawsuits if we get sick. Do not do this, it’s crazy.

    1. We have a responsibility to return and teach. The online experience is not if the same quality and if we insist on it students and their paying parents are simply not going to see the same value as the in person experience and are likely to seek institutions that are willing to provide that value. If we can’t provide it other institutions will. They will survive and Cornell will cease to survive as an elite institution and maybe cease to exist at all.

  23. I for one would be fully willing to return to in-person operations in the fall. I believe it is impossible to run the university for longer than a few months in this ‘remote’ manner. If reasonable precautions are taken–masking, handwashing, distancing–are taken then as much of the in-person operations should be restored as possible, as quickly as possible.

    1. “I for one would be fully willing to return to in-person operations in the fall. I believe it is impossible to run the university for longer than a few months in this ‘remote’ manner. If reasonable precautions are taken–masking, handwashing, distancing–are taken then as much of the in-person operations should be restored as possible, as quickly as possible.” Grant this as premise 1: it’s impossible for the university to continue in this remote manner. There’s another premise under discussion, 2: at this stage in our understanding and control of the virus opening the university non-remotely will create a health disaster. That’s the one that needs to be explored scientifically, right?, but it is unmentioned by this writer, who simply takes 1 as self-evidently unacceptable and therefore to trump, as it were, 2. This is just wishful thinking of an extremely dangerous kind.

  24. Given the transmission model, its going to be very difficult for faculty to teach in person classes. Will we wear a mask? Look away from the students? How frequently will testing be provided? What is the nature of this testing for the squeamish?

  25. I am yet to meet a single faculty member who doesn’t want to be back in the classroom in fall, we understand there is some risk.

    1. Dear n. 9, Meet one. Sure, we’d all love to be back in the classroom and see things return to normal. I care for two elderly parents and I have a vulnerable individual in my immediate household. Should I be forced to rent an apartment and live on my own for the year? You seem to be making assumptions about all Cornell professors with your “we,” but not all follow the same socio-economic model and not all share your idea of risk.

      1. THANK YOU! you shared my situation. I have a parent with terminal illness. Should I opt for not being with her and seeing her again?? and be in classroom everyday?

        Why don’t we, instead of trying to go back to old, try to innovate the new and define a valuable experience for students that does not compromise the personal lives of faculty and staff? They deserve a positive experience. Its time to innovate and design that experience.

      2. I agree with the many faculty who do NOT want to return to campus in the fall. As some have pointed out it is not just the over age 60 faculty who are concerned, younger faculty with underlining health issues, parents with children, faculty taking care of aged parents or a partner with health issues. While we all would like to interact in person with out students, this is Not the time to move back to opening up the campus. I teach lab classes where there is close contact and in small classrooms where 20 students are sitting shoulder to shoulder — so it is not just the large lecture classrooms that are the problem. Is Cornell going to hire many more janitorial workers to clean down tables, seats, door handles, lab tables and equipment after each and every class? How often will bathrooms be cleaned? Are the Cornell lawyers prepared for all the lawsuits if there is a major outbreak because Cornell insisted that classes be taught in person?

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