Professors feel wary about returning to campus

Ikram Mohamed, Life and Arts Senior Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the August 23 flipbook.

Troubled by the University’s COVID-19 protocols President Hartzell discussed during a council meeting, Stephennie Mulder decided to create a Facebook group for faculty and staff to voice their concerns about UT’s response to the pandemic.

After nearly three semesters of online learning, a majority of UT classes will return to in-person instruction for the fall. Without requiring masks, weekly testing or vaccination, UT’s Consortium Model study predicts a median of 11,200 students will contract COVID-19 during the fall semester. 

“The group was organized to give us a place to think through and process what feels like a confusing set of information coming out of UT-Austin,” said Mulder, an Islamic art and architecture associate professor. “UT’s (actually) going directly against the recommendation of its own researchers.”

Mulder said teaching in person during this time feels deeply unethical. 

“Walking into the classroom this fall, I feel like I am being forced to endanger my own students,” Mulder said. “I’m entering this semester with a deep sense of despair and anxiety. I feel like I’m being forced to do something where it’s just very clear what the reality is.”

Journalism professor Tracy Dahlby said his safety concerns for his students and teaching assistants made him place his J301: Fundamental Issues of Journalism course online for the entire semester and his Reporting the World course online for the first three weeks. 

“(J301) is a very big class and it pretty much fills that auditorium wall to wall, with not many seats to spare,” Dahlby said. “Some students will be vaccinated, some will not. That kind of uncertainty in students’ minds isn’t conducive to good learning.” 

Over the summer, Dahlby said he felt his life getting back to normal. He got vaccinated, took off his mask in public and looked forward to returning to campus. Then the delta variant emerged, and cases began to grow.

“It was gut-wrenching when I realized all my classes wouldn’t be in person,” Dahlby said. “I felt like this (was) the turning point we’ve all been waiting on … and it’s frustrating to see (fall 2020) repeating itself.”

Compared to last fall, some professors, like history lecturer Rachel Ozanne, don’t feel as shocked with last-minute changes surrounding in-person classes.

“I taught the class virtually last fall, so I have pre-recorded lectures,” Ozanne said. “Of course, I’d rather redo them, but given the limitations of time, I have those recordings ready to go. I feel more capable of rising to the challenge (than last year), but it’s frustrating.”

While this semester may not look as many initially hoped, Ozanne said as her eyes welled with tears, her students continue to impress her with their willingness to adapt. 

“Students have been working so hard to keep up with their coursework, meet these new requirements and adapt to new learning environments,” Ozanne said. “I’ve seen my students come together and just do their very best, and that’s been a beautiful thing to witness. I’m very proud of our UT students.”