Georgia professors press for flexibility to teach remotely



Professors at some public colleges and universities in Georgia are pressuring administrators to provide greater latitude to faculty who want to teach off-campus this fall semester to protect themselves, their families and others from COVID-19.

The schools are offering waivers to work remotely if the instructor has a health risk that would prevent that person from teaching on campus. Schools are asking faculty to fill out forms that include medical documentation explaining why they cannot be in the classroom.

The most persistent complaints to such forms are coming from Georgia Tech faculty. Some said they were previously granted accommodations not to teach on campus, but learned just last week a form was required by July 6 and the accommodations would have to be reapproved through a formal human resources process for employees in "higher risk" categories.

Georgia Tech offered allowances to faculty who are 65 and older, but is reviewing those guidelines after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week removed the specific age threshold from the older adult classification.

“Faculty should not be forced to risk their health by teaching live, on-campus classes,” leaders of the American Association of University Professors’ Georgia Tech chapter wrote in a June 25 letter to administrators. “Instead, all teaching that can be conducted online should be conducted online, irrespective of class size.”

A Georgia Tech spokesman said it is following guidelines from state and federal public health officials concerning its employee waiver policy. Georgia Tech's form says other accommodation requests from employees may be submitted at any time between now and the start of fall semester upon discussions with a supervisor. The waiver process is one of several complaints against University System of Georgia schools and administrators about fall semester reopening plans.Critics also want the University System to require face coverings or masks in classrooms. The University System has encouraged, but not ordered people to wear masks in classrooms when classes begin in August.

Faculty members with medical conditions say the accommodations for teaching remotely must be more flexible.

For example,  Augusta University communications professor Debbie van Tuyll told the AJC in a recent article she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Her chemotherapy begins on July 6, and she said the university has tentatively agreed to allow her to teach remotely. However, she said her husband, Hubert, who also teaches at the university, has not received such an allowance. She’s worried her husband may come in contact with someone who has COVID-19 on campus.

Ian Bogost, an interactive computing professor at Georgia Tech, has been one of the most vocal critics of the reopening plans, posting some of his criticisms on Twitter and in an article in The Atlantic magazine, where he is a contributing writer.

Bogost believes the University System has too much influence over the return plans. Colleges and universities should have greater authority to determine the guidelines, he said. Bogost’s concerns about the waiver plans include that the policy does not account for at-risk family members, but only the faculty themselves and what guidelines will schools use to determine to grant accommodations for faculty members.

“Because so much trust has been compromised this spring, it’s hard for faculty to believe the campus leadership is looking out for them, without evidence that they are,” Bogost told the AJC. “You can’t just say, ‘trust me’ when you have previously done nothing to inspire trust.”