By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – The evening before SUNY Oneonta issued its Draft Reopening Plan, some faculty members posted a 25-point manifesto and petition online: They’re against it.
Addressed to “Dear Acting President Dennis Craig and Provost Leamor Kahanov,” it declares, “To regain our trust and confidence in your decision-making processes, shared governance at SUNY Oneonta must be restored.”
Each of the 25 points begin with the word “stop,” and accuses the administrators of “the pretense
of care, when your actions speak otherwise.” And “providing vague data/information about the economic/financial factors driving your decision-making.”
By Tuesday evening, Nov. 17, 567 people had signed the petition. The signatures included 71 faculty – out of a total 500 faculty members; the remaining signatures were students, alumni and Oneonta residents.
The petition identifies its source as the SUNY Oneonta COVID-19 Safety Coalition and exhorts, “Be Smart, SUNY Oneonta.”
In an interview and videos to the campus community, SUNY Oneonta President Dennis Craig said some differences arose as the Reopening Plan was being developed.
• One, there is some faculty resistance to the campus goal of offering face-to-face – or “mask-to-mask” (M2M) – instruction in 20 percent of classes. “If you look at the consolidated campuses within SUNY, 40, 50 up to 60 percent” of classes have a M2M option, he said, adding, “Currently, we are far below this benchmark.”
• Two, what’s called “dual modality,” where faculty must teach in-class students, and address students as home via a camera and microphone at the back of the room. “Dual modality is important to serve both segments of our student community” – those who want in-person instruction and those who prefer distance learning, he said.
“Our goal is to work with faculty and make sure our students have the in-person classes they need,” the president said.
Faculty Senate President Jim Wilkerson and UUP President Dave Lincoln didn’t return several calls, but Keith Schillo, a veteran biology professor, agreed to speak on behalf of the petitioners.
Some faculty members feel a collegial discussion “turned into a mandate – 20 percent live instruction, face to face,” he said. “And we were told how we could teach it: dual modality.”
He continued, “It seemed like a threat: that ‘if you didn’t want to do it we would make you do it’.”
Some faculty members have health concerns, not necessarily about themselves, but of parents or children living with them who have pre-existing conditions, he said.
“When people were raising these concerns,” he said, “we were accused of not caring about the community or students. We felt completely disrespected.”
In dual modality, it’s complicated to address two audiences, he said, the live students and a stationery camera. Masks can muffle transmissions. Classrooms aren’t always clean.
A perceived impersonality bothered some, Schillo said. For instance, medical exemptions require faculty to fill out a standard ADA form, which is then processed in the HR department.
“Last week, we learned they were going to offer a $1,000 stipend for a three-credit course,” he said. “Instead of enticing people, it made them more angry.”
The conclusions of the COVID Response Task Force are being shared by the deans with the department chairs, who then share findings with faculty.
There is not unanimity among departments, Schillo said. He’s heard biology, chemistry and elementary ed made a “unanimous” decision not to provide volunteers for dual-modality courses. On the other hand, he said, psychology and history have agreed to participate.
For their part, students “want to come back,” according to Student Asso-ciation President Gabriella Cesaria. An association survey of 1,500 students found 50 percent want on-campus classes to resume.
“To students, we are their rock, we are their home,” said Craig.