Dive Brief:

  • College faculty members across the U.S. have been growing more outspoken as the start of the academic year nears, pushing back on institutions’ plans to reopen campus and protesting budget cuts necessitated by the pandemic. 

  • Among them is a group of tenured professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who, in a recent op-ed, urged students to stay home this fall. 

  • Some colleges plan to teach students primarily on campus this fall, though the spike in coronavirus cases has led many to change tack and offer most courses online.

Dive Insight:

College faculty have been digging in their heels about resuming in-person classes for months, though their criticism has taken on new urgency as the academic year nears and verified numbers of coronavirus cases rise in many states.

About a quarter of colleges are planning for largely online instruction, according to data from the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, which tracks institutional responses to the health crisis.

Faculty all over the U.S. say the pandemic has weakened traditional shared governance structures and lines of communication with administrators. But the letter from UNC-Chapel Hill professors, in particular, made waves. In it, 30 tenured faculty members openly discourage the approach their institution has taken for the fall. 

The professors implored students who are able to remain at home in the fall.

“We believe that this will result in a better fall semester for most of you,” they wrote. “It is also a tangible way for all of us to contribute to the health and safety of our loved ones and the Carolina community.”

Faculty across the UNC System are preparing to sue it to delay in-person classes, according to media reports. UNC-Chapel Hill did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Similar campaigns have emerged elsewhere in the country. More than 1,600 Pennsylvania State University faculty, staff and students, wrote to the administration in June asking for autonomy to teach classes remotely if they wanted. 

The union representing faculty members at public institutions in Florida has called on the state’s governor to open the academic year with online classes. A recent survey of nearly 200 union faculty members at the University of Florida found a majority don’t believe the college’s reopening plan accounts for campus safety. An even greater share don’t trust the university to protect students and employees from the pandemic’s fallout. 

Faculty and staff at the private University of Miami also said they weren’t meaningfully consulted in the institution’s reopening plan.

Instructors have criticized job losses and other pandemic-related cuts. Last month, University of Akron professors protested layoffs that were a result of budget cuts. The university ultimately eliminated 178 jobs, including nearly 100 unionized professors.

More recently, a coalition led by Massachusetts Teachers Association, a faculty union, started an ad campaign that derides the cuts among the state’s colleges. The group said officials need to press harder for federal funding and dig into reserves to prevent job loss.

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