Members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have joined together to petition the university to cancel all in-person instruction for the fall and move all classes online.
In the petition organized by a group known as Go Online UNL, about 450 UNL students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community have electronically given their support.
“Every day that the campus stays open to in-person instruction is another day that the risk grows for the UNL and greater Lincoln communities,” a representative of the group said in an email.
In the petition, Go Online UNL calls on University of Nebraska President Ted Carter, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, UNL executive vice chancellor Elizabeth Spiller and the rest of UNL administration to enact housing and dining measures similar to the Spring 2020 semester.
The group’s representative said UNL should provide all students adequate COVID-19 testing and space to quarantine or isolate if necessary so they don’t return home and infect their communities.
“We are deeply concerned about the kind of message the UNL administration is sending its students by valuing its own profit over all our lives,” the group said.
Kevin Hanrahan, associate professor in the Glenn Korff School of Music and immediate past-Faculty Senate president, said he signed the petition to place pressure on the university to look at reality and address the severity of the virus.
“The university has done as good a job as any playing catch up, but there comes a point where you want to hope that they’re thinking about the next steps and … several steps in the future,” Hanrahan said.
Hanrahan said every member of the UNL community should know the next steps of the university’s plan, including contingency plans, so that if the university or a part of the university needs to shut down, the plan can be executed.
Charlotte Kupsh, a graduate teaching assistant and third-year Ph.D. student in the English department, said the university sent out messages to faculty and students over the summer indicating the UNL community would return to campus and get through the semester together.
As the fall semester approached, she said the rhetoric flipped.
“I’ve been really disappointed in the way that the university has flipped this ... in a way that seems to suggest it’s the responsibility of the students rather than something that the institution can control as well,” Kupsh said.
Joy Castro, professor and interim director for the Institute for Ethnic Studies, said she also signed the petition with hopes the university pivots as soon as it can to all-online teaching.
Castro said UNL’s response to the coronavirus, despite hard work and good intentions from many administrators, has failed to protect all members of the community. Castro said the desire to provide on-campus experiences is compromised through the risk to the UNL community’s health.
“If we had simply been told early in the summer that, to protect all our lives and health, we’d be flipping to all-online, asynchronous modes of instruction, things would be far smoother right now for both students and faculty, and safer for all concerned,” Castro said in an email.
Kupsh said she signed the petition because UNL may not grasp how big the problem is and because she is worried for her students.
“All of them are people who deserve a chance to stay healthy from a virus that we don’t understand yet,” Kupsh said.
Hanrahan said more students have moved online, making classes more difficult to manage and design meaningful activities for, so it is easier to be either all in person or all online.
“The college experience that the students wanted is the college experience they’re getting on the weekends,” he said. “It’s not the college experience during the school hours, as they seem to be electing to go remote.”
Despite the petition, Deb Fiddelke, chief communication and marketing officer for UNL, said there has been no reported transmission due to in-person classes, and if there was evidence, the university would use that as an indicator to change classes.
Students learn better in the classroom, she said, even if learning can be done remotely.
No faculty or student’s request to work or take classes remotely has been denied, according to Fiddelke, and faculty or students who feel they are at higher risk or do not feel safe on campus can reach out to email@example.com so the university can address concerns.
“Flexibility was a very important theme as we were preparing for this fall,” Fiddelke said. “We don’t want anyone who is at risk or feels at risk to be put in a position that they are uncomfortable with.”
For the spring semester, Hanrahan said he hopes all courses are asynchronous and online, and if an instructor feels their class must be in person or synchronous, they must make the request, a reverse from the fall semester.
Hanrahan said some students have followed the university’s protocols and taken precautions to remain on campus. But, as faculty work to uphold UNL’s educational mission, not all students have done the same.
“This whole thing hinges upon one group picking up the ball and doing their job, and that group has been the students,” Hanrahan said. “Perhaps maybe the majority of the students have picked up the ball and done what they were supposed to do, but a significant portion hasn’t.”