SIUC graduate assistants call for remote learning this fall amid growing COVID cases in Jackson County

SIUC Faculty and Graduate Students suggest University to encouraged students to remain off-campus

Union calls for remote start to semester

CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - Leaders of the unions representing graduate assistants and tenured and tenure-track faculty are calling for Southern Illinois University Carbondale to commit to remote learning, teaching and working for the fall semester.

They said exceptions could be for those courses and other university functions that must take place on campus.

“If we encourage students to congregate in Carbondale, we will not only endanger their health and safety, but that of SIUC instructors and staff, and others in the Carbondale area,” said Dave Johnson, president of the SIUC Faculty Association.

Anna Wilcoxen is a graduate assistant at SIUC. “I think it’s safer and more clear to the public to move to anything that can be reasonably done online, should be done online,” Wilcoxen said.

As president of Graduate Assistants United, Wilcoxen and the union suggest SIUC should do more to encourage students to remain off campus for the start of the fall semester.

“Folks who make that kind of money asking folks who make $13,000 a year, to sacrifice our health and potentially our lives when we don’t have guaranteed future income or guaranteed future health insurance, Wilcoxen said. “It’s really difficult for us to swallow that pill.”

The unions said they are negotiating with the university in an effort to reduce risks in the classroom, and report that both sides are negotiating in good faith, and they say that progress has been made.

University Spokeswomen Rae Goldsmith said the university shares the commitment to safety just as the Union.

In response, Goldsmith said, “Yes we are very close to being on the same page. We will have a number of classes that are online and we will have some classes that are face to face because they can’t be offered online alone.”

However, according to Goldsmith, surveys of both students and faculty indicate a preference for face-to-face instruction when possible.

Some courses will be face-to-face because they require lab and other experiences that can not be offered online, and some courses will be a hybrid of face-to-face and online to minimize face-to-face instruction when possible.

In addition, Goldmsith said, “The steps we are taking are similar to those being taken at many other universities in Illinois and across the country. They align with Governor Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan and recommendations from the Illinois Board of Higher Education and state and national health agencies,” she said.

“Masks and social distancing on campus are essential,” Johnson noted, “but the university can do very little to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 outside of on-campus housing and classrooms. We are already seeing far too many cases among the college-age population in Jackson County. We’ve seen all over the country that increased cases lead to hospitalization and deaths. We have to listen to what the scientists are telling us, rather than just hoping for the best.”

SIUC faculty and graduate assistants believe that the best way for SIUC to ensure a safe and productive teaching and learning environment this fall is to take the following steps:

  • Offer all courses remotely unless they can only be offered face to face and are required for students to advance in their programs and graduate.
  • Encourage students to return to Carbondale only if they are registered for courses that must be offered face to face or can only safely and effectively continue their studies by returning.
  • Focus planning and resources on ensuring the safety of students and staff who do need to study and work on campus
  • Work urgently to address the digital divide by providing all off-campus students with reliable access to the internet.
  • Repurpose fees to address the digital divide and refund other on-campus fees for students who remain off-campus.
  • Work with unions to advocate for state and federal funding to make universities whole for economic losses suffered due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Work with unions to get the state and federal government to provide extended unemployment benefits for any workers who are laid off or cannot work safely on campus.

SUI’s fall plan, released last month, indicates that some courses will be on-line, some face-to-face and some a mix of both.

They’ve also included a detailed Saluki Safety plan that addresses masks and social distancing, cleaning protocols, testing and tracing, and personal responsibility.

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