UT-Austin professor opinions divided on fall semester, September faculty survey says

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Photo Credit: Rocky Higine | Daily Texan Staff

A majority of instructors said classes were going “very well” in an anonymous UT survey about professor concerns, instructional progress and course issues administered to faculty Sept. 2-6.

The Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost collected 1,223 survey responses — about half the number of teaching faculty this fall. According to the survey, 176 instructors reported classes were going “extremely well,” 613 reported classes “very well,” 379 reported “moderately well” and 45 reported classes were “slightly well.” 

Nine professors reported classes were going “not well at all,” the lowest satisfaction option.

“We are constantly learning, adjusting and improving to address a number of concerns and issues that arise throughout this crisis,” Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said in an email. “Part of that process included the faculty survey that we conducted to pursue improvements during this difficult time.”

Approximately 47% of responding professors reported having technology issues ranging from internet outages to difficulties navigating breakout rooms. 

“I felt completely unprepared and also unsupported through this transition (online),” one anonymous professor said in the survey. “It was a struggle to get even basic questions answered — like how do I set up the class meeting on (Zoom)? I was sent to dozens of useless websites that took hours to go through.”

As professors adjust to online teaching, Faculty Council Chair Anthony Brown said most council meetings this fall will cover “best practices” for virtual teaching.

“We recognize that it’s not even just about teaching in an online setting, it’s about teaching in an online setting in the context of COVID-19,” said Brown, a curriculum and instruction professor. “For the most part, faculty are very open and are willing to make adjustments.”

 

Harrison said training workshops have been offered to professors on virtual instruction through colleges and the Faculty Innovation Center.

Many professors said they put in extra work over the summer to transition fall classes online, and they started the semester exhausted. 

Harrison said professors must normally prepare for classes in the summer, but UT will try to recognize these contributions when reviewing faculty. 

“Some of us on nine or 10-month salaries worked all summer without a break or additional compensation,” one anonymous professor said in the survey. “We are exhausted and more and more and more keeps being asked of us.”

Many professors also said they were concerned about faculty and student mental health. 

Harrison said UT has shared messages with faculty about student well-being, such as accommodations during Hurricane Laura. The Employee Assistance Program also offers faculty self-care resources, including support groups and well-being training.

Several professors said UT should not have opened campus or offered in-person classes, and others said they were concerned about a lack of testing and information about COVID-19 testing. According to a Sept. 28 Faculty Council letter, UT has not reached its goal of 5,000 weekly proactive community tests because fewer than 5,000 people are willing to get tested each week.

“From what I can glean from the University reports, UT is still not doing anything approximating the 5,000 tests per day that we were promised,” one anonymous professor said in the survey. “My wife says she feels like she is sending me off to war every day.”