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Illinois Professors: "We're Putting Lives at Risk"

Should instructors be allowed to decide if a course is held in person or online? (AdobeStock)
Should instructors be allowed to decide if a course is held in person or online? (AdobeStock)
July 24, 2020

CHICAGO - A coalition of unions representing university and college faculty, staff and graduate workers are questioning the safety of returning to campus this fall.

Yesterday, the unions demanded that higher learning begin remotely for all Illinois colleges and universities. President of Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600 Tony Johnston says a safe hybrid or in-person model of instruction eventually could be phased-in after a remote start.

"By forcing the reopening issue too soon, and we all agree that this is too soon, we're putting lives at risk," says Johnston.

The coalition released safety guidelines for campus reopening that include social-distancing requirements, reasonable accommodations for high-risk faculty and staff, and special precautions for courses that require hands-on instruction.

The guidelines also call for instructor discretion in whether courses are offered remotely or in-person.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education issued a reopening guidance in June, but the coalition of unions doesn't feel it's adequate. Eastern Illinois University Associate Professor of Biology Billy Hung contends the voices of faculty are not being taken into account in many reopening plans.

"We must not underestimate the amount of precautionary steps that we need to maintain safety," says Hung. "Even low chances of spreading when sustained over time, with multiple interactions each day, can add up to significant risk. And the health and the safety of our students must come first."

As an advisor at Malcolm X Community College in Chicago, Akiza Boddie-Willis says she was among the staff told to report in August, while classes continue online. She doesn't believe she'll be as safe as she is working from home.

"There's really no amount of Plexiglas or masks or what have you that I feel would make me safe because of the airborne transmission," says Boddie-Willis, "because of the types of interactions that we have with students."

The coalition also wants Gov. J.B. Pritzker to reconsider his recommendation for in-person instruction, and to support stronger reopening guidelines for campuses in Illinois.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL