Professors have offered differing opinions on their hopes and concerns about returning to campus this fall amid the ongoing public health crisis. The Exponent reached out to several professors to hear their opinions on the upcoming semester.

Jan Cover

“As things stand right now, and knowing what I do about the mechanisms of virus-transfer and infection, I predict that, yes, I will feel safe entering classrooms in the fall,” Cover said. “Presuming that masks, distancing, and hygiene measures can and will in fact be implemented.

“At this point of mid-June, I personally am still without guidance about details,” Cover said.

“More than a few details of implementation are unclear to me, but none of these currently strike me as insurmountable.”

He acknowledged that no one can assure his absolute safety, but said he feels assured that for the most part, the students he teaches are good kids and will respect their professors.

He said that by asking students to follow demanding regulations, the University is giving students a chance to demonstrate their “greatness.”

“Maybe Purdue is special. If it isn’t, why not do our best to make it so, by asking much rather than little,” Cover said. “I say, let’s trust them to be as good as we tend to think we ourselves are.”

He feels face-to-face learning, if done responsibly, is the best-case scenario.

“In my view, being on the other end of some remote learning platform is distant enough to be absent,” Cover said. In his view, students and teachers need to meet in person for a successful learning experience.

“I love my time in class with students,” he said, “and can only dread the idea of losing it by halves or more.

“I still don’t see clearly how our classroom populations are to get thinned down. It’s starting to sound like professors will be asked to teach face to face and also, thank you, remotely as well, at twice the labor for half the effect.”

Along with uncertainty about how fall schedules will be altered for professors, Cover said he also worries about the technological aspects of switching to a hybrid, or fully online, option for teaching.

“For an old technically challenged Luddite like myself, who has spent 35 years in the direction of seeing the face-to-face classroom experience as an optimal one for real learning,” he said, “the six weeks of Spring 2020 nearly ruined me.

“I have taught at Purdue over 30 years — and briefly in New York before that — and cannot recall any past health scares that precipitated responses comparable to those we are witnessing and experiencing now with COVID-19.

“I am a somewhat animated, chalk-throwing professor, and I also distribute good old helpful handouts, and return good old covered-in-red-ink assignments back to students, and ask students to hand in good old-fashioned written work, and so on,” Cover said.

“What concerns me most is that for some reason we shall, as an institution of higher learning, be forced to give up on the really good idea of having live students in front of us in our classrooms, to genuinely teach in the way we know works best,” he said.

“More selfishly, I am concerned that some fairly last-minute expectations shall descend upon us, as instructors, to adjust in non-face-to-face directions, and be left largely to fend for ourselves in trying to accomplish it — largely in technical matters that are well beyond our skill set.

“It does astonish me that as yet, I see no moves in the direction of greatly increasing video capabilities in many rooms to capture classroom sessions. Doubtless this would be expensive, but even in the best of times, the direction in which things are trending makes it a fine investment, to capture more of course content happening up in front of the students.”

“I still seriously doubt if every classroom, come August, will enjoy a Plexiglas shield between instructor and students,” he said, “I hope I’m wrong.”

“Unless norms and expectations seriously change between now and August, I will wear a mask, even while teaching, because it is the right thing to do.

“I hate the masks, and can’t project my voice nearly so well — never mind loss of the hugely important facial-communication dimension — and despise that claustrophobic sense it creates when I’m operating at full speed; but yes, of course, for sure, come hell or high water, I will do for others what I wish them to do for me.”

Cover said that if students and faculty wish to be successful with the Protect Purdue Plan, people should take it upon themselves to make these changes the new “culture of behavior.”

“We — the collective ‘we’ — can I think make it a pretty darned uncool thing to be showing up in your class building or dining facility without your mask,” Cover said. “My own plan, come August, is this: If or when I encounter a person in the corridor without a mask, I’ll say ‘MASK!’ out loud as I walk past them, or even from behind.”

Alice Pawley

“The courses I teach in the fall, there is no reason we have to be face to face,” Pawley said.

She decided not to teach her class in person, and said her decision will make it safer for students in her class, in turn making it safer for everyone else by reducing the number of people on campus.

“I am taking the Protect Purdue idea to its next step, which is fewer people on campus, which means lower rates of transmission,” Pawley said. “If I don’t have to be on campus, which as far as I can tell from how we worked in the spring, as long as I get my work done, it is safer for everyone if I don’t bring my students to campus. And I don’t think the students in my classes will be hurt by that.”

This fall semester, Pawley will teach a small graduate course on the history and philosophy of engineering.

Pawley said she redesigned her course this past spring, and with all the different online tools for discussion she uses, she feels the course will retain its value while moving fully online.

She has a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old at home, and although day cares are open, she said it feels safer to keep them at home.

“Something that doesn’t seem to be talked about in the public sphere is the fact that the high impacts of the conditions we are trying to move to are doubling or tripling the labor for some folks,” Pawley said, explaining how professors are being asked to teach more sections, some online, which increases their workload.

Pawley said that she has concerns for people like graduate students, who are paid the least, have the most to lose and “may feel they don’t want to teach face to face but can’t decide to do otherwise.”

She cited a University policy that states faculty have freedom within their own classrooms.

“Instructors have the right to decide how they spend the time in their classrooms,” Pawley said. “These decisions are only overseen by the faculty bodies that those courses are in the division of.”

The administration has made decisions without the consent or agreement of the people these decisions impact, Pawley said, and by doing so are not engaging in a representative decision-making process.

“It’s undemocratic,” Pawley said.

Faculty have not been formally involved in the decisions, she said, and the administration chooses to ask for advice and input only after decisions have been made.

Pawley acknowledged that universities had to make decisions quickly when the pandemic began, but said they’ve since had a long time to think about the fall and engage with faculty. In her view, they still aren’t.

“Things like shared governance still apply during chaotic times, like this,” Pawley said.

Ronda Cassens

“I feel safe returning to work,” Cassens said. “The Professional Flight Department Faculty, Staff, and Safety Team have worked extensively to put together protocols that will protect the instructors and students, and our mitigation plan has reduced the risk to an acceptable level.”

Among the changes the aviation department made are screening everyone, like pilots, students and maintenance employees, before they enter the plane to make sure they don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms. Workers disinfect planes before each flight, and the department sends students or instructors with symptoms home, Cassens said.

“I don’t mind working remotely for administrative work, as I do have a 40-minute commute and that gives me an hour and 20 minutes back in a day,” she said. “But I can’t instruct remotely.

“I also enjoy interacting with people, so I would rather be at work most of the time.”

Recommended for you