Key Points and Next Moves

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for the many responses to us and me regarding how you see this moment we’re in. I haven’t had the time to respond to all, but I’m grateful to each and every one of you who reached out. Without exception, you all came from a place of wanting to do right by our students while balancing the health and safety of being in-person, our obligations as employees of the university, and what this moment means for our educational mission.

So I offer a few key points garnered from those messages, for us all to consider from a place of reflection on our moment. I also encourage you all to keep reaching out to me and us. This is exactly what we need to be a truly collective-run organization. Thank you.

For those short on time, here are the key points:

  • We cannot continue to believe we’re in control of a pandemic and will simply weather the storm.

  • We cannot ever be fully remote, given that some folks in our bargaining unit and across our campus community do not have that possibility for a variety of reasons.

  • Faculty must be able to choose their modality for teaching; most faculty will go remote and the benefits to the health and safety of our wider community as well as the educational quality of our courses will increase.

  • It’s important that we move immediately toward creating more robust online course offerings for the Spring term. Call them remote, call them online, call them meta. If students don’t want ‘em they won’t enroll. I’m willing to bet they’ll enroll and then some.

  • We need to increase testing and tracing capabilities, not only for students, but for all faculty and staff, too, including the free availability of N95 masks for those remaining in-person. We also need to build out capacity even more for when there’s a more robust in-person return.

  • There should be a labor and management working-group with real power from across the campus community to consider how and when we return to a greater in-person campus community. The only way we move through this thing is by making decisions together, not just talking about it together.

Nostalgia

Time and again, myself and others from UA leadership acknowledged that our world is changing. We are in a pandemic that will not simply fade away and is drastically changing both how we work and who can work. Many within our campus community have also thoughtfully expressed this outlook since the pandemic began. We cannot fight to “return” to something we are incapable of returning to. Indeed, this reminds me of the precursor to PTSD, and shell shock before that, nostalgia: a longing to return to a place that no longer exists. There is no doubt that many are experiencing collective trauma as well as individual struggles during this time. It is in many ways easier in the short-term to hope and plan that we will simply weather this latest storm and set sail once again with the sun in our face and wind at our back. This is the essence of bad faith.

Our students are struggling

I cannot imagine what it’s like for our undergraduates to see a world in front of them in flux. Our faculty and GEs want to support their students. But they’re left with so little energy to focus on their teaching mission. While it is required to record your class, you may have a number of pedagogical and practical reasons for not doing so – allowable under current policy. Many of you were quite confused on the latest mandates and have put so much time into the form of teaching that the content and engagement suffers. Some of you would be happy to continue in person but are not in a classroom with the appropriate tech infrastructure. Our cousins in SEIU IT services are stretched thin, too, trying their best to help us teachers do what we do. While the UO spent significant resources to upgrade technology in many classrooms, the capacity for all our classes simply is not there. And our rooms are still packed. We still have teachers, from PE to BIO to ECON, teaching too many students in their rooms.

Many of you, I hope, have seen communications from the GTFF, including on OPB, on how our graduate students are struggling. So many of our classes cannot happen without discussion section leaders and TAs; entire units and departments would not be able to function without GE instructors-of-record; and, we faculty are tasked with mentoring and supporting our future peer educators, researchers, and scholars. I implore you to stand with your Graduate Students from a place of compassion and show them what compassionate leadership looks like. While many of our research faculty have expressed to UA leadership that protocols in labs have been set up fairly thoughtfully, this is not what I’m hearing from our grads. So researchers should also see how our graduate students are doing and what they need at this time.

Our GEs, and so many others around campus, have made it clear that for those staying in-person, we and our students must have access to KN95 and N95 masks. We must have more robust testing capabilities for all UO employees and students. But so many of our teachers and researchers, both faculty and grads, are struggling with how to even get to work when we have others, from little ones to our elders, that need our care. Our policies and accommodations at the UO are a step in the right direction, but nowhere near close enough to the long-term, structural changes that must be implemented in order to make sure we are not losing an entire segment of our teachers and researchers.

Our caregivers, especially our parents, simply do not have the resources available for them to do their work. And it is no surprise that those already marginalized, those who struggled to become professors in a profession historically hostile to them, are facing the very real structural roadblocks that have always existed, now heightened, and there isn’t a single “DEI” initiative or individual accommodation out there that’s going to change that. But sadly, none of this is new to any of us. The more things change...

Diminished Utility

What really worries me, though, is that our teachers, both our faculty and GEs, are exhausted. This means we can’t do our jobs as well. I’ve heard from so many of you that if you knew you were going to be doing one modality, in-person or remote, you’d be able, like you’ve done before, to focus on that modality and give your students what they need and deserve. Some of you are able to deliver multi-modal content and do so well. But I’ve heard from many of you that most of you simply don’t have the resources or bandwidth to do so. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of our classes move to a remote modality in order to make them better. If that’s the case, then I hope our bosses understand that this is yet another sign that despite our grand intentions, the pandemic doesn’t really care what we want and what we’d like to see.

In other words, I think one of the toughest things about this moment is recognizing and facing that we, as an institution, do not have the control to simply go back to business-as-usual. We’ve had the opportunity to radically re-think how we deliver our education and I don’t think we’ve done that. It’s clear that many of our students will go off to careers where hybrid modalities will be the dominant form of their working lives. They will only be better prepared for their careers having had a shot to build their critical thinking and field-specific skills within multiple modalities of engagement. We can and should build out our online course capabilities now, not down the road. This could mean that we may even have enough well-resourced infrastructure for in-person classes (space, ventilation, and technology) for those whose classes absolutely benefit from in-person instruction and where conditions are safe to do so. Institutionally, we’ve been on this either/or kick, and it’s time to accept both/and as our new reality.

And when it comes to deciding how you should teach your class, I cannot imagine a single person out there knows better than you how you can excel. From our GEs to our Full Profs, you’ve each demonstrated your expertise at some level or the other to do what you do. After thinking a bit on the new remote-instruction policy, I began to imagine what it would be like if instead of asking for permission to do what’s best for you and your students, you decide and then alert your bosses to what you’re doing so they can marshall resources to support you.

Next move

Finally, I’ve heard from many of you how disappointed you are with the administration’s lack of compassion for the moment we’re in as well as an inability to see the moment for what it is and think creatively, strategically, transparently, and ethically about how to proceed. I cannot speak to the intentions of our bosses nor can I fully grasp the many pressures they are trying to alleviate; everyone answers to someone. But if there was ever a time to let go of the top-down structure, to create an advisory group with real power from across our campus community, and to face a situation that we simply cannot will away with intentions for “normalcy,” then I don’t know when it is. The longer we wait to act from a place where we accept that things have changed and we need to rethink how we accomplish our basic mission, the longer we hold on to what we cannot ever hope to grasp again. The pandemic has been here long enough for us to know it isn’t going anywhere.

Again, I won’t be surprised to see many teachers switch to a remote modality in the coming weeks. I hope we use this time wisely and we don’t go back to the same issues, the same debates, and the same intransigence over the last 20 months. We need to do something radically different: both prioritize the health and safety of our community and guide our faculty, staff, and students through this moment with compassion, grace, and preparation for an uncertain future. Please keep reaching out to me and us; Email me or [email protected], or use this anonymous google form. We need to keep hearing from you so we can navigate all of this together. Thank you.

In solidarity,

Avinnash