280 UI instructors advocate for online classes, pledge to teach online-only instruction

UI instructors shared why they signed a pledge committing to providing online instruction in the fall of 2020.


Hannah Kinson

UI graduate instructors John Jespen (Department of History) and Kassie Baron (Department of English), and associate professor Megan Knight (Department of Rhetoric) discuss why they will only teach online classes in the upcoming semester during a press conference over Zoom on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. They say returning to campus is a health risk for students and faculty, as well as members of the community.

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

Nearly 300 instructors at the University of Iowa have signed a pledge to “further the education of our students and protect the health and safety of our campus and community by devoting ourselves to planning for the safest, highest-quality online experience for our students in the Fall 2020 Semester.” 

The pledge cites ineffective state and national responses to COVID-19, the entwined relationship between campus health and safety and the local community health and safety, and in-person classes falling on non-tenure and faculty and graduate instructors as reasons classes should widely take place online in the upcoming semester. 

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Some UI graduate students and one professor held a press conference on Tuesday, where they laid out why they signed the pledge. They also shared a public petition demanding the university offer online instruction and remote work whenever possible for the fall 2020 semester. 

Kassie Baron, a graduate instructor in the UI English department, said she wants to provide her students with the education they deserve, and that won’t be possible until the university makes the switch to online classes. 

“If the spring semester has shown us anything, it’s that we as instructors at the University of Iowa are fully capable of providing successful online instruction that’s both effective and compassionate,” Baron said. “We could have already been dedicating our time and resources to ensuring high-quality online instruction [to keep] students, instructors, and the University of Iowa community as safe as possible. Instead, we’ve been forced to spend time and energy, preparing for any number of constantly changing scenarios, while also grappling with concerns for the safety of not just our students, but our loved ones as well.”

In an email to The Daily Iowan, UI media-relations Director Anne Basset said the university’s goal is to provide as much choice and certainty as possible to the campus community, in alignment with guidance provided by the state Board of Regents, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The university has taken significant steps to minimize exposure to COVID-19, she said, including reducing campus density, modifying facilities to promote social distancing, face-covering mandates, and enhanced cleaning.

Bassett said a communication was shared with faculty who expressed concern about in-person instruction, that reiterates the university has two different avenues for students, faculty, and staff to request alternative options for fall instruction — Temporary Alternative Learning Arrangement and Temporary Alternative Work Arrangements.

In a campus update July 29, the UI stated that opinions among students, faculty, and staff on vary on how the university’s campus should operate in fall 2020.

Megan Knight, associate professor of instruction in the department of rhetoric, said part of the reason she was advocating for this change to online classes was to represent her colleagues who don’t feel safe publicly voicing their concerns. 

“I work with amazing colleagues and I have to be honest with you, I’ve never seen them this dispirited or frightened,” she said. 

Knight herself was able to opt into online teaching because she has a health accommodation, and said she thinks online classes should be the default. She wants the university to focus on providing teachers with time and resources so they can do their jobs well in an online setting. 

Ashley Dorn, a Ph.D. candidate in the history department, spoke on behalf of frontline workers who cannot work from home, like custodians who will be cleaning living spaces of students that test positive for COVID-19.

The UI instructors were joined by Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter, who said she is scared about 30,000 students coming into the community without being tested. 

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“We love the energy students bring to our community, and we also feel a responsibility to keep them safe. It is hard to promise we can do that when cases are rising in Iowa. The state has no mask mandate, and the university is saying it is okay to bring students indoors for classes with up to 50 other people at a time,” Porter said. “We are all seeing disproportionate impacts on Black and Brown communities from the bias. I’m especially concerned about Black students going back to school, and those with underlying health conditions that create extra risk.” 

Porter said she expects the COVID-19 infection rates to increase when students come onto campus. 

“Two weeks after school starts, check out our numbers,” she said. “And I know that they’re not going to be good.”

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