by James (Jim) Klein President, Texas Association of College Teachers
I hope this newsletter finds you and your family in good health and spirits. As you prepare for the fall semester, I ask that you take a moment to consider the circumstances under which that semester will unfold at your college or university. Many institutions have created return-to-campus committees (perhaps using a different name) to determine the conditions by which instruction, meetings, and other campus functions will occur this fall. Check to see if your institution has such a committee. If not, contact your Faculty Senate or Council and ask it to recommend creation of one.
If your institution has a return-to-campus committee, check to see if any of its members are faculty. Faculty involvement in such committee work is vital for the optimum operation of the college or university. The faculty’s perspective on college and university issues differs from that of the administration and the public. Omitting faculty from such committees (unintentionally or otherwise) often leads to campus practices and policies that are counterproductive in the classroom and/or lab. Faculty members of this committee (and frankly to all campus committees) should be appointed by the duly elected Faculty Senate or Council and should regularly report back to the Senate/Council to ensure that they represent the interest of the entire faculty on this committee.
As for specific practices on the return to campus, UT-Austin produced a serviceable document (though certainly still leaving room for improvement). Here is a link to a brief description of the UT stance. As my colleague Pat Somers has noted, “UT has said that it will make ADA exceptions for faculty and staff who have certain medical conditions outlined by the CDC or if they have an immunocompromised individual living in their household. The info suggests that anyone with one of the conditions or an immunocompromised household will be granted permission to move their classes or job duties online. The faculty or staff member can fill out the very long normal ADA accommodation application or have their doctor submit a letter outlining the condition and recommendations.”
I suggest you share this document with any administrators at your institution inclined toward a less reasonable approach.
Thinking long-term, colleges and universities should establish permanent emergency management committees to prepare contingencies and responses to future crises (natural or human made) and faculty should have representation (as described above) on such bodies as well.
Lastly, TACT recently submitted a resolution calling on the Texas Governor to rescind his executive order and to allow colleges and universities to establish their own practices with regard to mask wearing and vaccinations on campus. Recognizing that Texas is a large
state with a diverse population and that conditions at the University of Texas El Paso, Tyler Junior College, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, for instance, are likely to vary widely, the governor should support local control of this issue so that each institution
can determine the best practices for its staff, faculty, and students.
As of this writing, the Governor’s executive order (or royal decree, if you will) remains in place.
If you feel strongly about this issue, join us in mid-October as we meet (in person or virtually) with those shaping state educational policies and practices at the state capitol in Austin. We faculty are on the front lines of higher education and regularly need to report back to the rear echelons about conditions at the front. (I am reminded of comments about the ‘rear echelon’ by a former colleague who spent decades in military service. I will leave these thoughts for another occasion.) Greater faculty participation in this excursion to the capitol (or by Zoom) will increase our influence there. TACT will send out details for this once they are finalized. Join us. There is strength in numbers.
Best wishes for a safe and productive semester,
James (Jim) Klein President, Texas Association of College Teachers