LFH: Day 4

by Sunita

In comments yesterday Barb advised me to take care of my eyes, and I really understood what she meant by the end of the day. My eyes were burning from the amount of time I had spent staring at the screen. For someone who rarely Skypes or video-conferences, the last few days have been a big change. Yesterday I logged 4.5 hours of live video interaction. First up was a morning meeting, then from noon to 1:30pm we watched the A&S and College Deans preside over a Town Hall, and then I caught up with the grad student I work with the most from 2pm to almost 3:30.

The main news in the Town Hall was about the closure of the university and the ramifications for faculty and staff. Starting March 23rd only essential personnel are allowed to be on campus, and the university has to be informed about those situations and clear them. Labs and other campus-based, ongoing research are reduced to maintenance. The expectation is that no active research will be conducted on campus with the exception of COVID-19-related research. And graduate students must stay off campus, i.e., they can’t be doing maintenance work in labs or any other tasks. Essential work has to be done by staff and faculty. You can imagine how this impacts labs, research programs, and the building of tenure and promotion portfolios. The current policies are in place until April 6, and all personnel will receive Paid Time Off (PTO) days to cover circumstances where they are unable to work from home, for whatever reason (personal or practical).

In between video appointments I tackled email. I finalized the survey for my students and coordinated the collection of information the college needs on how our we’re running our online classes. My colleagues have been great about responding, and so have my students. I don’t have all the responses in yet, but the majority of both classes are in (75% of one and 80% of the other). As I suspected, most of my students are in the US spread across our lower-48 time zones, but I have a handful that are further away. I was relieved to find that almost all of them have decent broadband internet. On the other hand, I was not surprised to learn that well over half of them have regular and/or substantial responsibilities at home that they wouldn’t have at school, which of course affects their ability to devote uninterrupted, concentrated time and space to their studies.

Our Dean of the College, who is awesome, stressed repeatedly that holding synchronous classes is unlikely to work well, and if professors insist on doing it they also must have a non-synchronous options. My survey responses show why synchronous class sessions are unlikely to work. Students are not captives on campus anymore. They have gone home to widely disparate settings. Many of them have parents, siblings, or other relatives and friends who place demands on their time and space whether they want to or not. And in my university’s case, they don’t even have most of their stuff. They have stresses galore when they’re not dealing with a worldwide pandemic, so what they are confronting now makes instruction an even bigger challenge. But I firmly believe it’s important to offer some kind of continuity. We older adults tend to forget that for most children, adolescents, and young adults, school is the activity that structures their lives. It’s their job, and more. When it’s taken away they are untethered. If we can offer them learning, however altered, we’re giving them something that provides continuity and is theirs. At least I hope that’s how it will work.

I started working at 6am to prepare for my 9am meeting, so I threw in the towel at 4:30pm when we walked the dogs. In the sunshine! We waved to a number of our neighbors who had also ventured out to get air and warmth. Then we watched the news and talked about what to make for dinner. As I wrote yesterday, I’ve been worrying about our small restaurant and takeout places, so I called the fried chicken joint to see if they were open. They were, and they still had chicken wings, so TheH went over and picked up wings and sweet potato fries, which we supplemented with steamed broccoli. It was delicious and mostly not made by us! And TheH confirmed that the restaurant, which is now take-out only, is observing safe distance rules. Being the grumpy-ish middle-aged men that they are, this was enforced with a “please place your order and step away from the counter” sign. Heh. I love that place.

We turned to Kanopy for entertainment and found The Front Page, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, in a beautifully remastered edition. We’ve both seen it several times but not for ages, so parts of it were a surprise. I remembered the fast patter and Ralph Bellamy, but I didn’t remember the fourth-wall breaking asides (e.g. Cary Grant describing Ralph Bellamy’s character as looking like Ralph Bellamy the actor). It has some racist language, used casually in passing which is somehow even worse, so be warned if you decide to watch it.

It would be nice to see the sun for longer than a couple of hours, which is all we’ve had since we got back on Friday evening. No such luck today, which started with rain and isn’t going to change. Friday looks like our first chance for sustained sunshine. Fingers crossed.

P.S. If any teachers reading this want to see the student survey, I’m happy to share it. Just let me know.