Yesterday, I got all my grades turned in, meaning Fall semester is all done…oh, wait, I had to write a bunch of student recommendations and get those sent off. OK, that done, now the semester is behind me, I’m care-free and can go dancing in the streets, or whatever I want for a little while. So what do I do? I opened up my calendar and started planning my schedule for next semester, sketching in lab protocols and exam dates, assembling the information that’ll go into my syllabus. I had some ideas for revising the content/pedagogy of the course, and I wanted to map them out.
It was kind of pointless.
Universities elsewhere (not the University of Minnesota, which will drag its heels to the last moment) are noticing this Omicron variant, and how quickly it may potentially spread, and are scrambling to adjust their schedules, just in case. Four California universities are switching to online only instruction for the first few weeks of the spring term; the University of Washington is going online only for the first week. This is bad news. If you’ve paid any attention at all to university management for the last few years, you’d know that they are always reluctant to adjust to reality, and are never pro-active. If this is what the UW and UC are doing, the situation has to be far worse than anyone is telling.
UM is doing nothing new. Not even a whisper of concern. You’d think, given the fact that our governor and his family just tested positive for COVID-19, that maybe there’d be an alarm bell ringing faintly in some neglected corner of the administration building. For that matter, you’d think Governor Walz might wake up and realize that his lackadaisical, half-assed approach of doing the bare minimum to contain the pandemic wasn’t working, but I don’t expect that to happen, either.
I realized then that next term might be more challenging than I expected, especially since I’m now required to teach all of my classes in-person. Brilliant. Maybe that will change, but I think the faculty and students are now sacrificial lambs laid out on the altar of an optimistic sense of normalcy. It’s all on the shoulders of the faculty to figure out how to flexibly cope with the changing situation.
I made a decision as I was drafting my syllabus. I am required by my employers to be there in Sci 1020, the genetics classroom, but I don’t have to demand that students be there. I’m making attendance optional. I’ll record all my lectures and post them online. Exams will all be take-home. I’ll hold office hours on campus (you better be vaccinated & wearing a mask if you show up in person) and held simultaneously on Zoom.
The lab is a problem. Actually doing the data collection and analysis of independently acquired data is kind of the core purpose of doing a lab, and it’s going to require using on-campus facilities. I have a plan for that, too. The first week of lab will be online: it’s all preparation in basic probability and statistics to get ready for the actual work, and I have exercises in coin-flipping and die-rolling they can do at home. That one is manageable.
Subsequent labs are all about working with flies, and most people would rather not breed thousands of fruit flies in their kitchen. Once again, I am required to teach in-person, so I’ll go in, record myself doing the procedures and showing the students who show up how to do them, and make that available online. Then I’m throwing the lab schedule out the window: the genetics lab will be open from 9am onwards, students will come in when they’ve got available time to do the work on our incubators and microscopes, and I’ll be on call to help out from 9-whenever. That should help spread out attendance. If the university shuts down (I hope the severity of the pandemic isn’t so great that that is necessary), I’ll do the experiments alone, supplemented with class data from previous years, so the students will at least have numbers and phenotypic data to analyze.
It’s going to be a lot of extra work, but I’ll do it. The university administration better be prepared, too: so help me Dog if any of my students die of COVID-19 because of the mandated university environment, I’ll be preparing my letter of resignation and will take my retirement right now, thank you very much. I am so damn tired of irresponsible, incompetent responses to the pandemic, not just from my university, but from every level of government.