Oregon State University’s (OSU) plan to reopen fall term with some level of in-person instruction is being met with pushback from a group of professors and members of the faculty union.
Recent reporting by the Corvallis Gazette-Times featured an excerpt of a letter written by 25 university instructors to OSU President F. King Alexander and his top administrators saying “we urge OSU leadership to announce as soon as possible a decision to, in nearly all cases, eliminate in-person instruction during fall term 2020.”
The instructors are concerned about the recent spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide, coupled with increased transmission in young adults, significant levels of asymptomatic transmission, and higher risks of infection indoors. They also doubt a test-and-trace program on campus will be able to contain the spread.
“Thousands of arriving students would likely import substantial numbers of new cases into Benton County,” the instructors wrote.
The faculty union is also worried, demanding that every faculty member decide whether to open their class for in-person teaching or not. However, a website update confirmed that Alexander and Provost Ed Feser would have the final say on those decisions.
Based on information provided by the administration in a previous collective bargaining session, the union is concerned about the virus not being contained, claiming there are inadequate resources to properly test those on campus. It was also mentioned that false negatives could be high, and that there are ineffective self-screening measures as well as inadequate enforcement of face coverings.
Univeristy teaching staff in general may have a higher risk in the population due to their age.
Steve Clark, OSU vice president for university relations and marketing, said the university is aware of the increase in coronavirus cases, but believes its measures will suitably contain the spread on campus, regardless of an influx of students. Most classes will be taught remotely, and the university has many classes through its E-campus – an online-only program.
Clark recognized that not resuming in-person classes would financially impact the university, but said that had no bearing on their planning. He did note that next year was forecasted to see a $60 million deficit in the general education budget, not including millions lost in athletic, housing and dining, and other revenues.
OSU has found $48 million in cost savings through administrative pay cuts, a hiring freeze, a travel ban, cutting back on spending and capital projects, and possible reductions in faculty salary.
Clark also suggested that the administration was amenable in terms of faculty opting out of in person instruction.