by Matt Ross
I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to prepare for the start of the Fall 2021 semester. I’m thrilled to see so many students shuffling through campus again. Don’t they seem excited to congregate! No, I wouldn’t say that they “look down.” I’d say their heads are bowed in reverence for our campus’ carefully calibrated off-beige, rectangular-cement aesthetic.
I do appreciate all the recent emails and phone calls (though I’m curious how my phone number got released). I’ll take the time now to answer a few of the most common questions:
· No, our campus does not require COVID-19 vaccination for students, faculty, or staff. We are a state school in a politically conservative state, and these decisions are made by our Board (elected officials who gave me this job and whom I don’t want to piss off).
· Yes, we require measles, mumps, and rubella shots for all students, faculty, and staff, and yes, I’m aware that the FDA just granted full approval to the COVID-19 vaccine. What can I tell you? We highly value safety and health. That is our official stance and I’m not going to apologize for it.
· We are not an “anti-vax” campus. We are a “vaccine-freedom” campus. Our campus is a Freedom ZoneTM, and as valued faculty members, I’m pleased to announce that you’re all eligible for 10% off any Gertie the Glass Frog, Freedom ZoneTM t-shirt at the university bookstore (discount applies to one shirt per faculty member).
· You heard right! We are requiring unvaccinated students to wear face masks. Pretty good, right? No, you cannot be sure which students are vaccinated. And it’s true that the CDC has advised everyone in the state (because of our <40% vaccination rate) to mask indoors, but you cannot force students to mask in your classrooms. Public health must be balanced with FERPA. Our lawyers tell us this will hold up against possible faculty lawsuits.
Let’s trust our students in this matter and also with missed assignments and absences. We all know that extraterrestrial life could exist, so it’s not out of the question that Laxidazians (from the planet Laxidazia) could kidnap students (as one fraternity claimed last year) and force these students to teach them to hunt during the first week of deer season. You’ll be happy to know that we’ve aligned our fall break this year with the start of both deer and turkey season.
· No, we cannot space students six feet apart, even though the CDC recommends this. The university is funded primarily through student tuition, so we need to fill the classrooms. Yes, we could operate partially online like we’ve done the past year, but optics are important. Think about the brochure photos!
· I hear you say that some university buildings, like the Social Sciences building and the Languages building are “prehistoric” with “cramped, sweltering rooms” and “students sitting on top of each other.” I object to this language; I call these buildings “historic,” boasting a proud tradition that supports our STEM mission. Our students need electives to balance their more demanding (and let’s face it, more important) science and engineering courses.
As far as the rooms themselves, each cozy space allows for more intimate faculty-student interaction that students don’t receive in their larger lecture halls. Most of the asbestos was removed last year, and we continue to place plastic buckets under ceiling leaks. Just email Facilities Management if you need a bucket. We have various color options.
You’ll also be happy to learn that we’ve bolted shut all the classroom windows, so you won’t hear construction as we dig up the last remaining green space on campus to expand the Electrical Engineering building. We’ve disabled the temperature controls in the classrooms, so you’ll have even fewer distractions. With our county under a heat advisory, think of your warm classrooms as snug, welcoming, and eco-friendly: places where knowledge can more readily percolate. This does impact airflow, but how long are classes anyway? Seriously, I don’t know the answer.
· No, you cannot ask a student who shows outward signs of illness whether they’ve contracted COVID-19 and/or request them to leave your classroom. Nor can you, as some threatened in email, send them to my office as I don’t live near campus (or even in state). Like the rest of you, I have my own family to consider, so, five years into my hire, I have yet to move to your part of the country. But let me stress, faculty are 100% in-person this year, no exceptions.
These are difficult times that call for difficult decisions. That’s why I’m paid the big bucks (half a million!). Let’s get off to a safe and healthy start. Think of yourself not as educators, but as customer service reps. And let me encourage you once again to help boost student retention with robust ‘grade-prosperity’. Don’t think of it as grade inflation. I never used that term.
I look forward to seeing you around campus (through my computer screen), and if you have further questions, remember that I’m the final authorization for all promotion and tenure applications.