I write today with sincere appreciation for the honor of serving as the new president of AAUP-UC. I decided to run for chapter president because of my long-standing commitment to higher education and the pressing need for higher education, including UC, to re-commit to the core academic mission of the university—teaching and research. The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, making this re-commitment to our mission all the more necessary.
As Aisha S. Ahmad writes in her March 27, 2020, advice column in The Chronicle, “Global catastrophes change the world” (para. 3). More, she suggests that “even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect” (para. 3).
The number of changes already made in our personal and professional lives is undeniable. The universal move to online teaching environments, the ramping up of technology and creation of just-in-time learning supports for our students, the rearrangement of our homes and our families’ lives to accommodate the demands of working remotely—all efforts meant to protect the health and wellbeing of our UC community. Photos from around campus, the city of Cincinnati, the state, the nation, and the world at large show an unvarnished truth: life in the time of coronavirus is anything but business as usual. It is taking an enormous outpouring of energy, individually and collectively, to manage our lives in these uncertain times.
The way through such uncertainty? Stay connected—to each other and to the present moment—which is to say, stay vigilant. Rather than paper over the inevitable disruption a pandemic brings to our everyday lives, Ahmad advises, perhaps counterintuitively: “Let it distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world” (para. 15).
In other words, this is a time to take stock. A time to reflect on the vital role higher education plays in the health and wellbeing of our society, especially in times of national crises, and re-commit to the academic mission of the university—teaching, research—as “essential” work and its faculty, in turn, as “essential” workers. Like all universities, the long-term welfare of UC ultimately depends on attracting and retaining quality faculty and students. Weathering this crisis successfully, then, depends on prioritizing both the maintenance of a robust instructional faculty and the allocation of resources to our core academic mission.
On behalf of the Executive Council members, I’d like to thank you all for your extraordinary efforts to support your students and your programs, for your strength, your compassion and care. We applaud your good work and your good will. If we can support you in your efforts, please reach out to us.
Connie Kendall Theado
Ahmad, A. S. (2020, March 27). Why you should ignore all that coronavirus-inspired productivity and pressure. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Chapter has received numerous queries asking whether faculty furloughs or wage reductions are possible in the wake of the global coronavirus crisis. For fulltime faculty—those covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (the CBA)—there are only two ways that this could happen.
First, the administration could bargain with the Chapter, as required by state law, over any change in working conditions, including furloughs or salary reduction. This requirement is one of the benefits of being represented by a union and protected by a CBA. To date, the administration has not proposed any changes in working conditions nor have we received a request to open negotiations. If the current situation changes, there would be a formal process for convening and managing such a dialogue. Similar to the collective bargaining process, Faculty and Librarians would have ample opportunity to provide feedback before the Chapter enters into any negotiation with the administration.
Secondly, the administration could invoke Article 28, Retrenchment Under Conditions of Financial Exigency. A financial exigency is defined by Article 28 as an “imminent financial crisis which threatens the institution as a whole” that may result in the “termination of tenured Faculty or termination of untenured Faculty during the period of their appointment.” Again, there has been no notice from the administration that they plan to invoke Article 28.
Following is a summary of the Article 28 process. In the event Article 28 becomes a real possibility, the Chapter will send further communications outlining the process in more detail. You can also review Article 28 in the Collective Bargaining Agreement
Summary of Article 28
- The Administration will present the anticipation of a financial exigency and the data to support it to the AAUP-UC Chapter.
- After a period of review, the Administration and the Chapter shall submit joint or separate recommendations to the Board of Trustees on whether a condition of financial exigency exists.
- The Board of Trustees declares at a public meeting that a financial exigency does or does not exist.
- If a financial exigency is declared, the Chapter and the administration appoint a 14-member committee to study the issue and to investigate ways to relieve the exigency by means other than retrenchment, including programs or activites that:
- (a) are not self-supporting (that is gifts, grants, contracts, or income from endowments designated for or other funds produced by that activity are less than the expense of that activity excluding tuition remission), or
- (b) are not in direct support of academic programs, or
- (c) are not essential for continued operation of the academic program of the University.
- If Faculty terminations are recommended, the affected Faculty will be notified and will have the opportunity for comment.
- The Committee shall present its recommendation or recommendations to the Board of Trustees in writing. Any recommendation with the support of five members will be transmitted to the Board.
- At a public meeting, the Board can adopt the recommendation or recommendations from the Committee to relieve the financial exigency or send it back to the Committee to provide an alternative plan. If a recommendation is not sufficient to relieve the exigency, the Board can act on its own initiative.
- If an appointment is terminated, the Faculty Member shall receive salary or notice in accordance with the schedule provided in 28.9 of the CBA.
- Note that Article 28 only covers fulltime Faculty and Librarians (i.e., members of the bargaining unit). Unrepresented and adjunct faculty (at less that 65%) are not protected. Their condition will necessarily be considered as the Chapter works with the Administration in the spirit of shared governance to solve this critical issue.
No doubt by now you’ve all read one too many think pieces about teaching in the Corona Virus Crisis. You’ve heard hot takes by professors, students, administrators, and politicians. You’ve seen funny Tik Tok parodies of the different “types” of on line teacher and laughed over a WebEx faculty meeting bingo card, maybe. Perhaps you don’t need another reminder about what this situation looks like, but what I’m offering you are the words I myself need to hear.
First, it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to be tired, anxious, sleepless, and short on patience. It’s okay to feel a little claustrophobic, to be eating too much or too little, to be watching too much TV or find yourself unable to read a favorite book. I’d say it’s normal, but what’s normal?
Second, it’s okay not to want to “take advantage” of the many “virtual professional development” opportunities that are piling up in your in-box. It’s okay to set aside a research project for a while, to not find an on-line conference to replace the conference you didn’t go to in March. You’re allowed to slow down and spend your energy elsewhere, and you’re allowed not to have any energy. Your value as a human being is not defined by your current productivity or lack thereof.
Finally, it’s okay if your classes aren’t the best pedagogical exemplar, whether they began as online classes or are face to face classes suddenly forced by exigency into a remote format. In fact, as others before me have argued, it may not even be appropriate to aim for perfection or excellence right now. This is not about a “newbies vs experienced on line teachers” comparison. No one should feel they have to aim for excellence in this “remote classroom” crisis, regardless of the training or background they have in on line instruction under normal circumstances.
Our students don’t need one more Power Point with embedded lecture that took you ten hours and a sleepless night to construct. Some of them don’t have the internet to even watch it. Our students don’t need extra discussion boards or group projects. Some of them are working double shifts at the hospital or the grocery store. Some of them are home with children, home with difficult family members, or home with violent partners. Some of them are suddenly unemployed.
What they need may be far beyond the scope of what we are equipped to provide. They may be disappearing, not turning in work, not showing up to synchronous classes or office hours, and the reasons for their changed behaviors are probably wildly varied. Similarly, some of your course material may not ever translate appropriately to an on line format—and that is through no fault of your own. Music lessons, studio classes, and labs, among other things, won’t just magically migrate to digital versions of themselves. It’s okay to mourn the loss of those opportunities.
What I’m trying to aim for in my new, “remote” versions of classes that were face to face is a clear focus on the course outcomes. A triage of what feels most essential, with lots of reminders and additional support. Even so, many of my formerly high-performing students are MIA or suddenly turning in all their work late and half-finished. More than anything, I’m reminding myself not to take it personally. Most of them have bigger problems than our annotated bibliography.
Some in higher education will take advantage of this sudden shift in instruction to tout what they see as the benefits of on line classes, or to try to put a positive spin on the situation—“Look at all the shiny new tech you can use now” and so on. I’ll be sitting over here being the curmudgeon who argues that what we and our students need most now is the least technological thing possible—a little empathy and a lot of forgiveness.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
by Mary Oliver
Hear the poet read the poem here: https://youtu.be/lv_4xmh_WtE
Phoebe Reeves, M.F.A.
AAUP-UC Vice President