OPINION: Georgia campuses still in denial about COVID

Two professors say Georgia colleges should move to online classes since the pandemic is 10 times worse than at the start of the fall semester, and hospitals are running out of beds. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Two professors say Georgia colleges should move to online classes since the pandemic is 10 times worse than at the start of the fall semester, and hospitals are running out of beds. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Two professors urge online classes given pandemic is 10 times worse than at the start of fall semester

In a guest column, two public college professors in Georgia contend the public health crisis and guidance clearly dictate a move to online classes by the state’s campuses.

This weekend, one public campus, Gordon State College in Barnesville, announced it would delay the start of classes, scheduled to resume Wednesday, until Jan. 25 because of concerns over COVID-19

Joseph H.G. Fu is a mathematics professor at the University of Georgia, and Timothy Hedeen is a professor of conflict management at Kennesaw State University. They note these are their views and not those of their universities.

By Joseph H.G. Fu and Timothy Hedeen

The University System of Georgia is now opening for the spring semester— into the teeth of the deadliest phase of the COVID-19 pandemic we have faced so far.

Looking back at the fall, Chancellor Steve Wrigley and the Board of Regents refused to issue any policy or discussion whatsoever for when to pull back from face-to-face classes and go online. Testing for the virus was woefully inadequate on every campus except for Georgia Tech. The USG failed to seek meaningful input with students, employees, or reality.

Dr. Joseph H.G. Fu
Dr. Joseph H.G. Fu

Students and employees of the USG responded by taking appropriate steps to protect themselves and others, finding innovative and effective ways to continue teaching and learning while keeping safe. Employees with non-teaching duties developed effective and efficient ways to maintain the operations while working remotely.

Now the pandemic is 10 times worse than at the start of the fall semester. As of this writing, ICUs in the coordinating hospital region serving Kennesaw State are 86% full. In the region serving UGA, they are 113% full— 13% over capacity. Mutant strains of the virus have emerged, substantially more contagious than before.

Dr. Tim Hedeen
Dr. Tim Hedeen

Yet, the response of the USG is unchanged, except to urge our campuses more forcefully toward face to face activities, all while withholding critical information and resources that might enable a safe return to classrooms and campuses. You wouldn’t know our state is being ravaged by a deadly contagion, as the USG hasn’t required campuses to track and publish daily infection information, and with the exception of Georgia Tech, campus leaders haven’t come close to the robust testing and tracking needed.

Public health guidance for higher education clearly dictates a move to online classes. At the very least, classes during the first weeks of the semester must be held fully online, while we take stock of the situation we face.

We understand the challenges facing the USG and Regents, just as we understand the fear gripping our colleagues and students. The demands for classes to be held face-to-face, for other work to be performed in-person, are unreasonable. They create enormous – and unnecessary – strain on students’ and employees’ mental health. They bring enormous – and unnecessary – risks to campuses as well as their surrounding communities.

When the Regents meets Tuesday, let’s hope they rise to the challenge of this moment: shift classes and operations to remote formats wherever possible, as soon as possible. We’re all hoping to get back to campuses – when it’s safe for all to do so.

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