Faculty union pushes to revoke reopening campuses and stick solely to remote learning in the fall

University of South Florida. Credit: USF Facebook page.

With a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections in Florida, faculty union leaders are calling for all state universities and colleges to revoke plans to reopen campuses in the fall and stick to remote learning only.

The United Faculty of Florida, which represents full-time faculty at colleges across the state, announced the push Friday in a news release and is scheduled to hold a news conference on Monday along with the Florida Education Association, which filed a lawsuit this week over K-12 brick-and-mortar schools.

The faculty union said in the press release that most reopening plans for colleges were developed more than a month ago and “less than 40 percent of the institutions where UFF represents faculty have revised those plans despite the surge in recent COVID-19 infections.”

The press release came as Florida reached the 400,000 mark for COVID-19 infections on Friday, with 402,312 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health. The death toll also has risen as well, with 5,653 deaths of Florida residents reported Friday.

UFF President Karen Morian said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix that colleges are “not changing their plans” and “this is an ongoing process” to get university officials to establish fully online learning for students in the fall.

Morian also said in a separate written statement:

“We love face-to-face teaching and miss our students, but, as much as our faculty and students fervently wish to get back to our classrooms, the steadily rising COVID-19 infections and deaths warn against it.

Our students, faculty, staff, and many administrators are gravely concerned about early reopenings; we all deserve safe learning and working conditions. If our institutions become hot spots due to early reopenings, closing campuses mid-term once again would do real harm, mentally, physically, and economically.”

Last month, Florida’s 12 public universities released its individual plans for the fall semester, following safety guidelines set by the State University System of Florida.

Most of the university plans included hybrid education models – both online and face-to-face classes – and a shift to online courses after the Thanksgiving break, to mitigate potential COVID-19 outbreaks from traveling during the holiday.

How college students and families would respond to online-only classes is not clear. But some students have already gotten their schedules for in-person classes on campus as well as online classes. And students may feel left out of a traditional campus atmosphere.

Meanwhile, a few historically Black colleges in Georgia recently announced its plans for online learning only, including Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, both located in Atlanta.

“This difficult but necessary decision was informed by current scientific evidence regarding the alarming spread of COVID-19 and with the guidance of medical experts,” Clark Atlanta University said in an announcement to the campus community.

Morehouse College President David A. Thomas said in a message to the campus community that “the drastic spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide is concerning” and “it necessitates that we consider changing course to protect the health and safety of the Morehouse community.”

However, Tallahasee’s Florida A & M University, also a historically Black college, currently is not doing online only.