“Morale is at an all-time low,” warns a petition at the University of Iowa.
Universities are caught between the demands of their faculty for greater safety precautions, and the fear of losing students, and the revenue they bring, if schools return to another year of online education.
“I think everybody agrees that the idea is to have people physically back in the classroom,” said Peter McDonough, general counsel for the American Council on Education, an organization of colleges and universities. “The turning on a dime to provide online education last year and the previous spring semester was only seen as temporary.”
For some faculty, the new year brings not a return to normal but a strong sense that things could go off the rails. In the first weeks of class, case counts have risen at schools including Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Arizona State, Liberty University, the University of Arkansas, the University of North Florida and the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“It seems like a repeat,” said Michael Atzmon, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan. “On the one hand, we have the vaccine. On the other hand, we have Delta.”
Dr. Atzmon helped organize a petition asking the university to be more open to online teaching. It was signed by more than 700 faculty members and instructors.
In a response to the petition, Michigan’s president, Mark Schlissel, said on Thursday that, given the “stellar” rate of vaccination at the Ann Arbor campus (92 percent for students, 90 percent for faculty), the classroom was “perhaps the safest place to be” on campus.