In the first weeks of March 2020–as the coronavirus spread across the globe, administrators at American universities scrambled to develop response plans. Almost universally, these plans amounted to shutting down their campuses and face-to-face instruction and then shifting to online instruction. Details of these plans vary widely: some universities continued face-to-face classes in order to make it to spring break before moving online, others made the decision over spring break, still others extended their breaks in order to give faculty more time to make this shift. Regardless of these differences, the shift to online instruction in, what was for many people, the middle of a semester meant that faculty devoted a herculean amount of labor in order to keep classes going, to reach out to our students who never signed up for the online class and might never have taken an online class before. For many faculty, it is the first time they have taught online: many have had to redesign entire courses, learn new technologies, and make these transitions on a brief timeline. Education technology specialists and faculty with online teaching experience went into overdrive trying to support these colleagues.
Many of these faculty, staff, and administrators know little about what the future holds. Right now, university administrations are dealing with reimbursing students’ room and board fees while looking ahead to the next academic year. This loss of income, compounded by the threat of a dramatic decline in enrollment for summer and fall 2020, has caused some universities to declare financial exigency (e.g., Central Washington University), and others are not accepting first-year students this fall (e.g., Notre Dame de Namur University). The effect that the pandemic will have on American universities is only just beginning. In this backdrop of uncertainty, as faculty and staff try to continue their work online, some of whom are testing positive for the virus or hear about students, colleagues, family and friends testing positive. We are trying to keep our families going, to keep one another safe, and contribute to our communities. We are trying to keep research and writing going, or at least feeling pressure to do so. We are all just trying to keep our shit together.
Teacher-Scholar-Activist and Spark are committed to continue our year-long series of blog posts leading up to the election. For March we do not have a post to share in the Year of Activism series. Our colleagues are working hard at a monumental and largely unfunded switch to online teaching— a kind of national triage that we expect to reveal many systemic inadequacies even as teachers and scholars do their best to provide students with an educational experience that has meaning. We expect, too, that the tenor of some of the blog posts for the coming year will change– how could they not? The political ramifications of a thus far silent Secretary of Education, varied local responses, and an incompetent kleptocrat president will be resonant as we head to the election and the fall semester. We will be here and we will bear witness and give voice to this moment.
We will return in April with a post. We encourage all of you to take care as best you can and take care of one another.
Darin, Liz, and Don