Spring break has finally arrived on the UCLA campus, and many faculty are scrambling to move their classes online while sheltering in place and homeschooling their kids in response to the corona virus outbreak. The Council of UC Faculty Associations asked UC President Janet Napolitano to delay the start of spring quarter:
We call on our UC leaders to recognize that administrators, faculty, students, and staff — especially IT units — need a breathing space between the hyper emergency end of this quarter and the beginning of the next, so that everything can run as smoothly as possible, given how much unpredictability we are all facing in our daily lives.
Although many other universities have delayed, the UC will be keeping to the regular schedule. Week 1 of spring quarter, however, should be treated for what it will be: a transition, a ramp up, a soft launch. Faculty and students are struggling to adjust to the new reality. Many students, a good number of teaching assistants, and some faculty have unreliable internet connections in their homes. Very few of us among the faculty are trained in online pedagogy, and many are learning how to teach online while their own children are the next room keeping up with their own schooling. Everyone will need time to get used to the new environment, and many will need extra time to manage daily life.
The unprecedented reorientation of the university to remote instruction highlights how much the UC relies on the cooperation and good will of its employees. Faculty, sure. But also IT and administrative staff, graduate student instructors, lecturers, librarians, and hospital workers among others. The conflicts between administrators and employees we have seen in the recent past, most recently the COLA protests and the UC-AFT negotiations, do not go away during this crisis. How the unfolding crisis changes the political dynamic of these conflicts remains to be seen.
UPDATE: On March 24, faculty received two email messages from campus leadership about the spring quarter. The first letter, titled “Supporting Students this Spring,” officially sanctioned Week 1 as a “transition:”
Please treat the first week of spring quarter as a time of transition, being particularly patient and flexible with your students and yourselves. Keeping open lines of communication with your students is essential to understanding their needs. Please consider recording lectures in the first few weeks for students who may miss classes as they become familiar with new computers and internet access solutions, which UCLA is working to provide for those who need them. Recorded lectures do not need to remain available indefinitely; they can be removed at any time.
Shortly after a second letter arrived focusing on faculty issues, titled “Supporting Each Other During this Transition.” No doubt this letter developed from faculty feedback via the Academic Senate about the disconnect between bureaucratic expectations of “continuity” and the chaotic realities of faculty households, especially those caring for children, parents, or other dependents. Many faculty felt an earlier letter about adjusting academic personnel cases was too vague, left too much choice in the hands of Deans and Chairs, and was silent on the specific challenges of faculty with young children.
During this time, we ask that schools, divisions, departments, and leadership all across UCLA be flexible and considerate of our faculty as they work to develop and adopt remote learning procedures and new learning theories for their courses. We recognize that many faculty, particularly those caring for dependents at home or facing other acute challenges related to the current crisis, will have difficulty continuing their creative and scholarly activities. We must be flexible and alter our expectations of what can be accomplished in this very trying time.
These modified expectations can be addressed initially by deans and chairs who should provide, to the extent possible, appropriate flexibility in assignments and scheduling. Both the Academic Senate Committee on Academic Personnel and campus administrative leadership are well aware that expectations during a faculty member’s next review will have to be changed in consideration of the current challenges.
Now it will be up to the upper administration to be sure Deans, Chairs, and academic personnel committees actually follow through.