UFF calls for higher education remote-only courses when fall semester begins in August

Jacksonville, Fla. — With local colleges and universities set to start the fall semester next month, some professors are pushing back against the return to in-person teaching.

The United Faculty of Florida (UFF) is calling for the transition of all Florida’s institutions of Higher Education to remote learning.

In a letter sent to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Monday, UFF President Karen Morian said, “We love face-to-face teaching and miss our students, but, as much as our faculty and students fervently wish to get back to our classrooms, the steadily rising COVID-19 infections and deaths warn against it.

We all want to reopen our campuses but, more importantly, for them to remain open in the long term.”

The union said less than 40% of the institutions reopening plans were developed six to eight weeks ago and haven’t been revised despite a surge in recent COVID-19 cases.

“If our institutions become hot-spots due to early re-openings, closing campuses mid-term once again would do real harm, mentally, physically, and economically. Bringing faculty and students back to college and university campuses in the fall may achieve a Pyrrhic victory, at best,” the letter said.

The union said most current plans fail to address sick students, sick faculty, on-campus housing in the event of an outbreak, testing or tracing, which UFF said could lead to lawsuits.

UFF represents local colleges and universities, including UNF, Florida State College of Jacksonville and Saint Johns River State College.-Kally Malcom, an associate professor at UNF and Chapter President for UFF, sent a similar letter to UNF President David Szymanski.

She urged President Szymanski to pause the university’s current plan to reopen campus and implement a fully remote start when courses begin Aug. 17.

“The conditions are just too dangerous to return to face-to-face,” Malcom said.

In the letter, Malcom wrote “this recommendation is not made lightly as UFF-UNF recognizes the significance of both the safety and economic challenges.

Valuing the health of our students, faculty, and staff must be our priority.”

Malcom said faculty and students are eager to get back to face-to-face learning, but she said opening the campus right now wouldn’t be safe.

“While our passion is strong about teaching and the methods of in-person delivery being among the best that we can possibly provide, life and health really needs to come first.”

In response to Malcom’s letter, UNF sent Action News Jax this statement:” The COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges impacting the University in a myriad of ways, and the UNF community has shown tremendous strength and resiliency in navigating this changing landscape.

The University’s comprehensive Fall 2020 reopening plan, which has been shared throughout the community and approved by the Florida Board of Governors, focuses on the health and safety of our University community while still providing the high-quality academic experience our students expect from UNF.

The University is in constant consultation with its Medical Advisory Task Force Working Group and other local and state health officials on the changing nature of the coronavirus and remains flexible to changing conditions.

The reopening plan may evolve as the status of COVID-19 and our understanding of best practices to address the virus advance.”