BOONE — Appalachian State administrators outlined decisions about the fall 2020 semester and fielded questions during a special June 22 meeting of the Faculty Senate.

Faculty heard from Interim Provost Heather Norris, Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management Director Jason Marshburn and Graduate Studies Dean Mike McKenzie (also recently appointed as vice provost of academic program development and strategic initiatives).

For the next few hours after information was presented to the group, faculty had various questions about the operations of the fall semester.

Some would say that the COVID-19 pandemic has created some of the “hardest times higher education have ever faced,” Norris said. She added that like many campuses across the nation, App State officials don’t yet have all of the answers for fall 2020.

Marshburn explained that planning for the fall semester has been led by the Chancellor’s Recovery Strategy Leadership Team, the Project Management and Implementation Team and the Emergency Management Task Force. Marshburn’s office plans to conduct weekly meetings with department representatives to share information about available resources and to help address any questions or concerns.

McKenzie is part of the Project Management and Implementation Team, and said the group committee is basing its recommendations on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of North Carolina system. Norris said the group has worked to gather feedback from various stakeholders across campus, including faculty, staff and students.

The university plans to begin the fall semester on Aug. 17, with no fall break and final exams to be administered online. University officials have identified 53 alternative classroom spaces — such as the Plemmons Student Union and Legends — across campus to allow for social distancing, as classrooms will only be allowed to accommodate for 50 percent capacity, Norris said.

Work is ongoing to identify different modes of course delivery — including face-to-face, hybrid (both face-to-face and online), high-flex (which allows for flexibility in rotating who is in the classroom) and strictly online. Norris added that current technology capabilities for existing classrooms and new alternative classrooms have been identified, which led to an order of an additional 300 camera and microphone systems, 35 projectors and 85 OWL cameras.

App State will be implementing cleaning and disinfecting protocols with the help of 50 additional temporary custodial staff who will clean classrooms multiple times a day. Custodial staff will also be in charge of restocking hospital grade disinfectant, paper towels and refillable hand sanitizer dispensers, according to Norris. Additionally, 300 sanitizing stations will be installed at primary entrances and exits of academic buildings and high-traffic areas. McKenzie said his committee is waiting for further federal and state guidance when it comes to topics such as elevator usage.

According to Norris, university officials were working on optimizing the current heating and air systems in buildings to create fresh air exchange. This is in addition to the mandate to wear masks when on campus, and the creation of signage to direct traffic flow in buildings. To date, the Campus Emergency Operations Center has distributed 16,811 units of supplies to the university community — most of which has been face masks or face coverings, according to Marshburn.

To ensure students are aware of community expectations for the fall, Norris said officials in Academic Affairs and Student Affairs are developing a “welcome week” which would consist of students in small groups that are spaced out as much as possible.

Faculty Senator Matt Robinson — a criminal justice professor — said that the reality of a student’s social life off campus makes on-campus policies, such as wearing masks, irrelevant. Robinson said a student of his recently sent him a video of students interacting off campus who were not social distancing.

“If that’s going to come back to campus, then it doesn’t really matter what happens on campus,” Robinson said.

The university is procuring a screening application that would allow all faculty, staff and students to complete a screen each day prior to coming to campus. Testing, contract tracing and quarantine protocols would all be done in accordance with local public health officials, Norris said.

The Faculty Senate also heard from Clint Coffey, the chair-elect of Staff Senate, who said he was primarily concerned about open and frequent communication from the university as well as receiving clear guidelines. Coffey said Staff Senate really wanted to see some sort of framework for returning to work that ensures safety for staff.

Both Norris and McKenzie said the university is in the process of finalizing the scheduling for the fall semester to allow students and faculty to request accommodations. Several faculty inquired whether or not they would be “forced” to teach face-to-face in the fall. Several noted caring for elderly parents or being at risk themselves if they were to contract the COVID-19 virus. Norris said the university has “obligations” to provide face-to-face instruction, but the university wants to give faculty the opportunity to request accommodations.

According to the university, accommodations may be made on a case-by-case basis to facilitate teaching and learning in specific environments. To submit a request, visit hr.appstate.edu/Highriskidentificationform.

“We want to work with you. We want to do whatever we can to accommodate your needs,” Norris said. “But we do have to be face to face this fall in some form or fashion.”

Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent said he thinks faculty are having to bargain between their health and their jobs. He asked Norris if faculty who request to teach online could still be asked to teach face to face. Norris said that it would be a conversation that would be had between department chairs and deans. She said based on earlier indications from faculty several months ago, 70 percent of faculty at that time stated they wanted to teach in person.

“My hope is that we’ve provided you with enough help and safety information, and to be able to make accommodations for you, that face to face would be something that most faculty would be comfortable (in doing),” Norris said.

Other concerns faculty had were about topics such as allowing time between classes for students who then have to find a place to have an online class; the worry of the Human Resources form not being secure enough; and enforcement mechanisms for policies such as wearing face coverings on campus.

The Faculty Senate passed a resolution requesting that the university's administrators implement certain practices. These include not requiring any instructor to teach in-person if they have any concerns for their personal health related to COVID-19 during the Fall 2020 semester; not requiring any instructor to disclose the nature of their personal health concerns if they request to teach online; allowing instructors the option to switch to fully online at any point in the semester if personal health concerns emerge related to COVID-19; and that there not be a penalty for faculty who follow these principles. 

For more information on how Appalachian State University is planning to return to campus, visit www.appstate.edu/recovery.

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(2) comments

billspizza2016@gmail.com

Bring 20,000 student back to Boone and they'll bring the plague with them, and most of them don't even care. Just read some of the ASU student Facebook groups. They think they're 10 feet tall and bulletproof. Our positive COVID cases will skyrocket and ASU can not police what the kids do off campus.

thechaosaysmuuuu

Wow, ok, so this piece is missing A LOT of context:

- The HR form mentioned is riddled with problems, some of them potentially legal considering the depth of personal health questions asked, the lack of any kind of receipt of submission of the form to a confidential party, and the fact that the from *is not* run through a proper personal health information secured portal.

- In addition to this, there is a clear discrepancy in the university’s message. At one point Norris and Bachmeier both said that the form was 100% confidential, that no supervisor would have access to said form. Yet not 5 minutes later while discussing the same issue, Norris says that the discussions RE: requests for online teaching would happen at the departmental level. If this is the case, than clearly this is *not* a confidential process.

- “Quotas” were mentioned RE: face-to-face classes, but the Provost refused to give an answer on what percent of course “must” be online. This complete lack of a solid response leaves those faculty wondering whether or not they’ll have their requests honored quite worried.

- In fact, this article completely overlooks the fact that the Provost was asked *countless* times, in multiple wordings, by multiple faculty members (including demanding a simple yes/no) RE: face-to-face teaching, and never once was a *solid* answer provided. NOT ONCE.

- The Provost alluded to firing any faculty member who would be forced to teach face-to-face (assuming that their request for online teaching was denied), though refused to come right out and say it. Once again dancing around the issue. In the event that a faculty member could not or would not teach face-to-face if their request for online teaching was denied, then the university would “ensure that the course continues on in a face-to-face format.”

- Although faculty have been *repeatedly* asked about their thoughts on face-to-face vs. online teaching for the fall over the last 3 months, the Provost either does not have, or actively refuses to use the most recent data. She continually referenced MARCH for her stats on the percentage of faculty that would prefer online vs. face-to-face. In case she’s been living under a rock the last 3 months, things have changed, that was the very beginning of this whole mess. To use that data to support your claim that the majority of faculty would prefer face-to-face is just downright dishonest. Were the Provost to use that kind of data in my class on an assignment, she’d receive an F for cherry-picking and using outdated data.

- The administration provided NOTHING at this meeting. Their entire presentation was nothing but reading off, nearly word-for-word, emails that have already been sent out. No new information whatsoever, and a complete refusal to answer simple yes/no questions.

- This article completely overlooked one of the most disturbing comments made. When asked about how many cases/deaths would be necessary for campus to close once again, in the event that that occurs, the Provost repeatedly stressed that the university would not be closing. Read that again.

- Considering that the university had no problem forcing everyone to go online in the Spring, and argued that the quality of teaching would not be reduced, why is it now such a problem? Simple: the more time that the university spends spinning their wheels and running out the clock, while continuing to communicate to students that they should prepare for face-to-face, the closer we get to the early July deadline in which students will be unable to receive refunds for housing. This is all nothing but a con, swindling our students.

- The university argues that reopening is essential to avoiding lost funds. Yet this is coming from the same administration who has thrown tens of millions of dollars at completely needless projects, esp. Athletics, putting the university in even more debt, all while focusing on nothing but growth. Perhaps if the university cared more about it’s *actual* job (education) and less about trying to operate like a private corporation with a mind for nothing more than quarterly profits and cancerous growth, the financial argument would not be as strong. Beyond that, they refused to provide numbers on the costs associated with all of the infrastructure changes, new equipment, new hires, etc. that they are making to go online. Without these numbers their claims on financial losses of in-person vs. online are completely moot.

- I’d love to know the number of terminal degree-holding administrators who will be on the front lines teaching face-to-face this fall. Any administrator not teaching face-to-face, should be immediately fired.

- RE: safety. If you don’t see what a complete and utter joke this is. There will be no testing, instead the university will push it off on to the county. Masks policies are STUDENT CONDUCT policies. I kid you not. When *repeatedly* pressed on how exactly mask policies would be enforced in class, and *who* would be enforcing them, faculty were told to “put it in the syllabus.” Read that again. Clearly not a single one of these toadies has ever taught a real class. They are expecting faculty to now both teach *and* to serve as public health enforcers.

- When pressed about what happens if a student or faculty member tests positive, and what that means in terms of contact tracing and quarantining of those individuals, little to no information was given, other than to stress that they’d follow CDC guidelines, i.e. 14-days. If that’s the case, then it should be pretty crystal clear just how quickly ALL of this could come tumbling down, leading to a forced turn back to online teaching.

- Given all of the above, NONE of this is necessary. ALL of these issues could be avoided by simply sucking it up, and teaching online for another semester. It’s by no means ideal, but these are not normal times. The administration’s response to all of this only highlights the repeated disdain for faculty, staff, and students, and the callousness with which they treat their employees. While the Chancellor hides in her fourth story, bullet-proof fortress of solitude (she can’t even be bothered to do her job and show up to a *virtual* meeting), she expects the rest of us to put our health, and for some, our lives on the line so that she can look good in front of the UNC system. If she had a half-ounce of decency, she’s be standing up to the UNC system in support of her employees and customers, but once again, she’s proven to be nothing but a complete and utter hack.

Finally, I just have to say. This article reads like a piece of propaganda. Did y’all even bother to attend the whole session, or to interview faculty who were there the entire time? This reads like a communique from the upper administration. You dedicated one tiny paragraph at the end to list all the other issues faculty have with this decision. This is truly a sad piece of “objective” reporting…

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