It’s apparent by now that none of us really kn0w how to handle a global pandemic. Of course, safety measures like masks and social distancing guidelines are important, but when it comes to larger questions about how to move forward, even the experts don’t have all the answers. Every industry is facing major decisions, but with the fall semester fast approaching, it’s crunch time for higher education. Schedules are in flux, on campus vs. remote options are still being weighed, and with nearly every state now seeing a surge in cases, things are changing day by day. But choices still must be made, and not every school is making popular ones.
Recently, Florida State University, an institution which employed more than 15,000 people in 2019, made a controversial announcement about their work from home policy. An email to faculty and staff noted that in March, the University “communicated a temporary exception to policy which allowed employees to care for children at home while on the Temporary Remote Work agreement.” But going forward, “the University will return to normal policy and will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely.” The new rules are set to go into effect on August 7th.
According to a statement from Renisha Gibbs, FSU’s Associate Vice President of Human Resources, the University has a “standard telecommuting agreement that requires dependent or child-care arrangements while working remotely.” Gibbs added that if employees do not have child care options for the fall, “they should work with their supervisors to identify a flexible work schedule that allows them to fulfill their work duties and their family responsibilities.” Is that not what basically every parent has been doing for the last four months?
My uni (in FLORIDA) just announced that effective August 7th the University will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely. I can’t even process that- the pandemic is not over and will not be over then.
— Dr. Jenny Root (@Dr_Jenny_Root) June 27, 2020
Dr. Jenny Root, an associate professor at FSU, voiced her concerns about the new policy, telling The Lily that the University is “acting like they gave us this privilege to watch our children while we worked—when that’s literally what I had to do.” Root explained that her children’s daycare center had only recently opened back up, but was forced to close again when someone in the community tested positive for COVID. And with a major recent uptick in cases in Florida, this seems like an especially strange time to act like things will be back to normal in just over a month.
Florida public schools are currently set to open for the fall semester, but with coronavirus cases ripping through the state, that may not happen. Florida State employees were set to begin returning to campus as early as next week, but those plans are now on hold. These developments, along with backlash to the childcare decision, led Gibbs to update her earlier statement. She acknowledged the changing situation, saying that the University will “make any adjustments accordingly,” and vowing to work with employees who are “balancing parental responsibilities and work obligations.” We’ll see how that goes, but at this point, it’s looking like things might be worse in August than they were in March.
Across the board, universities are getting creative with how they can resume normal-ish operations as safely as possible. Yesterday, Yale University announced that they will have no sophomores on campus this fall, and no freshmen on campus in the spring. This arrangement sounds bizarre, but it will allow the school to operate at around 60% in-person capacity, and students living on campus will be tested weekly. The majority of classes will be offered virtually, with only labs and studio classes required to be taken in-person.
Also this week, Williams College, one of the world’s top liberal arts schools, announced they will cut their tuition and fees for the upcoming school year by 15%. Williams is the first major school to announce any kind of tuition discount, with President Maud Mandel citing the “destabilizing impact of the coronavirus outbreak on student academics and activities” as the top reason for the price cut. Williams plans to “flexibly” return to campus for the fall semester, but classes will be a mix of in-person and virtual, and all sports for the semester have been canceled.
While Williams is the only school so far to announce a decision like this, many students have expressed anger at the expectation that they will pay full tuition and fees for reduced resources and mostly remote instruction. Some have even filed lawsuits demanding partial refunds for the spring semester, and studies have suggested that more students are choosing to take time off from school, rather than pay full price for another f*cked up semester.
Basically, every school is trying something different when it comes to reopening, and no one knows exactly what will work. But prohibiting employees from taking care of their children seems like maybe not the best option?
Images: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com; dr_jenny_root / Twitter