Despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country, many universities, especially those that are tuition-dependent and lacking in a large endowment, are planning on bringing students back to campus come Fall semester. Drexel University has not issued any statement on the matter since the June 10 announcement expecting a return to campus in September.
However, many members of the Drexel community are unsure how to feel or act about the plans moving forward. Over the past week, The Editorial Board reached out to faculty members to hear how they are feeling about the university’s intention to return to University City.
Some professors are confident that Drexel’s health guidelines will create a safe learning environment, but others are more dubious. A professor in the department of English and Philosophy who preferred not to be named expressed some concerns. “Seeing the lack of compliance in the general public, I don’t trust that there will be universal compliance of social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing of everyone on our campus.”
It’s certainly no help to anyone’s optimism that we’re seeing parts of the country hit their peaks months after some areas were able to flatten their curves. “I’m feeling extremely uneasy about the return to campus, especially given the recent spikes we’ve seen in cases across the country,” Dr. Ronald Bishop, a professor in the department of Communication noted. These are “spikes caused by rushed re-openings and the flouting of CDC guidelines by a shockingly high number of people,” he added.
There’s also worry that no matter what efforts the University undertakes, there are physical parts of the in-person learning experience that cannot be controlled. “I don’t feel safe in elevators or in classrooms without proper ventilation of outside air,” another professor in the department of English and Philosophy who preferred not to be named revealed. They also expressed concerns about the safety of public transportation at this time, which many Drexel students and staff rely on. Dr. Bishop also pointed out the issue of the confined size of some of the older buildings on campus. “Many of our classrooms are quite small, and many lack windows. I worry that social distancing just won’t be possible.”
It’s hard to know just how to proceed in this situation. Martin Fisher, an adjunct professor of Screenwriting in the Westphal College of Art and Design, compared making the decision to “being asked to buy an airline ticket, only no one knows where the plane is going.”
Scott Tattar, a faculty member in the department of Communication, expressed that he “will put [his] family’s health first and let that guide [his] decision to return to teach on campus.”
For others, however, adjusting to Zoom learning is just not worth it. Dr. Gabriella Ibieta, an associate professor in the department of English and Philosophy, said that “after more than 40 years in the classroom and more than 30 as a tenured professor, I have no interest in teaching remotely.” Dr. Ibieta, who was originally planning to retire at the end of the upcoming academic year, has accelerated her plans and will not be returning to Drexel.
The shortcomings surrounding the quality of remote learning is one every professor and student unfortunately must face. With some universities, like Princeton, discounting tuition for the coming semester, some feel that charging full tuition for remote instruction is unjust. However, this claim undercuts the efforts that professors have made to maintain an engaging learning experience.
“I strongly believe that my online courses are not ‘damaged goods’ but provide my students with the same levels of knowledge and same skills as my regular courses,” Dr. Alexander Nikolaev, an associate professor of Communication, asserted.
In Drexel’s case, it has also been pointed out that the University could face hard financial ramifications if we do not return to campus in the fall.
Across the faculty, there’s an evident sense of uneasiness. While some feel that the administration is doing all they can in their planning, many still feel that the process is being rushed and that there are still numerous factors not being closely considered. It’s clear that no one can be sure of the correct course of action, but The Editorial Board hopes that the administration will continue to protect and support our faculty and students as decisions continue to be made in the approaching months.