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Group of VCU professors call for a virtual start

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Posted at 4:50 PM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 09:47:03-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As colleges and universities across the country struggle with how to safely welcome back students to campus, a group of VCU professors sent the school's administration a resolution calling for a virtual start.

Members of the VCU chapter of the American Association of University Professors approved a resolution that said “the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff should be the primary consideration in decision-making about when to reopen a campus.”

Dr. Tim Bajkiewicz, a VCU journalism professor and the chapter’s AAUP’s Communication Director, acknowledge that the administration has provided departments and units with flexibility during the pandemic.

“We understand why they made the decision to return to campus awhile ago, but now we think it’s time to revisit the decision,” he said. “We are hearing from some faculty that quite frankly don’t feel comfortable about the communication they’re getting and there are some folks... bottom line, don’t feel comfortable going back.”

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VCU spokesman Michael Porter responded in a statement:

“Virginia Commonwealth University is committed to the safety, health and security of our faculty, staff and students. We have been working with our community to reduce the risks of COVID-19 infection as we return to campus this fall. We appreciate and welcome the input of all VCU faculty, including the AAUP-VCU chapter.”

Nearly half of VCU’s classes will be held in-person, while nearly 35 percent are entirely online, with the remaining scheduled as a hybrid form.

“We recognize that some classes just don’t work online, like a dance class,” Bajkiewicz stated. “But, if a class can be online, it really should be online.”

VCU Senior Aliyah Simmons will soon return to the classroom to finish her nursing degree.

“I’ll be having clinical in-person as of now, and that’s in the hospital getting those clinical hours. All the didactic portion will be online,” she explained.

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Simmons empathizes with the professors who want a virtual start.

“We are all uncomfortable in some aspect. We are dealing with the uncertainty,” she said. “I’d never want anybody to be in a situation where they’re forced to come back.”

On Thursday, Randolph Macon College in Ashland announced their decisions to delay in-person classes for two weeks and phasing their students’ return over a two-week period.

“Part of the problem is we can’t just get all of our students in the classroom all at the same time depending on what the class is,” Bajkiewicz explained.

The AAUP's VCU chapter also expressed concerns about spreading the COVID-19 between students and staff.

"In-person education will almost certainly result in outbreaks on campus early in the Fall 2020 term, and such an outbreak would not only have negative financial and health consequences that may well be worse than restricting in-person education in the first place, and will result in those necessarily in-person classes being restricted as well," the resolution read.

Classes at VCU are scheduled to resume on Monday, August 17.

VCU’s full statement can be read below:

Virginia Commonwealth University is committed to the safety, health and security of our faculty, staff and students. We have been working with our community to reduce the risks of COVID-19 infection as we return to campus this fall.
We appreciate and welcome the input of all VCU faculty, including the AAUP-VCU chapter. (The group's president indicates about 100 faculty members belong to the chapter.)

We have worked closely with the VCU Faculty Senate [facultysenate.vcu.edu], which represents all faculty members (more than 2,500 full time teaching and research faculty and more than 900 adjunct faculty members), throughout the spring and summer in developing our plans, have held university wide Town Halls to answer questions and receive feedback, and we continue to provide weekly updates of planning to all faculty and staff.

In addition, the administration has worked closely with the deans of our 11 schools and three colleges in working with faculty in a wide array of academic disciplines.

We have provided resources to help faculty reduce their risk of Covid-19 on campus and provided them with the flexibility to deliver their courses in their preferred modality: 47.3 percent of our courses are being held entirely face-to-face, 34.7 percent are entirely online, 12.6 percent are hybrid (meaning more than 30 percent of the course time is spent face-to-face) and 5.5 percent are blended (meaning less than 30 percent of the course time is spent face-to-face).

We are monitoring infection rates locally and in Virginia and we continue to follow the guidance of our VCU Health, state and national medical experts and our VCU public health response team in returning to campus safely this fall.

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