FL faculty members calling for action to curb COVID-19; colleges elsewhere are mandating restrictions

University of Florida
University of Florida campus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

College faculty members in Florida are trying to push back on adding more in-person classes on campuses, while college and universities elsewhere in the nation are mandating stricter restrictions to curb COVID-19 cases.

It’s not clear yet if faculty in Florida will prevail on the issue, though many professors and instructors favor online instruction because of the pandemic.

Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the United Faculty of Florida, sent an email Thursday to State University System of Florida Chancellor Marshall Criser, saying:

“It is time for the denials to end about the threat of this virus. The BOG [Florida Board of Governors] needs to take action like the University of Michigan and the University of Utah,” Ogletree said.

The University of Michigan recently announced a 2021 winter semester plan that includes “more remote courses, fewer undergraduates living on campus and more widely available COVID-19 testing,” according to The University Record, a campus publication for faculty, staff and retirees.

Michigan also is attempting to reduce the number of students living on campus, saying in the publication that “all U-M housing contracts for undergraduate residents will be canceled for the winter semester.”

In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert mandated that “all universities in the state will begin (COVID-19) testing their students once a week” including at the University of Utah, beginning in 2021, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

But the “order currently only applies to those who live on campus or who are taking at least one in-person class” and “all other students have the choice to get tested or not,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The University of Utah has just “21% of its courses in person,” according to the newspaper.

Ogletree told the Florida Phoenix that “both UF [University of Florida] and UCF [University of Central Florida] have grievances” related to teaching more classes on campus rather than continuing online instruction.

According to a New York Times analysis, Florida has the second highest number of COVID-19 infections at U.S. colleges and universities, with 13,650 cases at 87 schools. Texas has the highest number.

However, when it comes to all COVID cases of any kind across states, Florida is not experiencing the recent surges occurring in the Midwest and other areas, according to The New York Times data.

Florida’s public universities have different plans related to teaching modalities after Thanksgiving, with Florida State University in the state capital shifting to remote learning for the rest of the semester – classes and final exams will be online.

And the University of Florida in Gainesville is encouraging its instructors to conduct remote courses after Thanksgiving but it’s not a requirement. Also, the university plans to increase its in-person classes in the spring 2021 semester, which has received pushback from some UF faculty.

Ogletree’s email to Chancellor Criser said:

“Increasing Face to Face (instruction) is what we all want but the hope of a vaccine is close. Let’s not risk the lives of Floridians now because some elected officials cannot admit they were wrong.

Lead the BOG (Board of Governors) to make needed changes and correct the wrong headed guidance of our Governor.

Err on safety and not on the meager funding promises being used as an incentive.”