Our tradition is to begin the first fall Biweekly with Crock's observation that they're not getting younger each year; we're getting older. And we link to the latest iteration of the Mindset List. But this year is different. We haven't gone through a pandemic like this for a hundred years, and many of our students are even less prepared than we are - and their feelings are probably even more all over the map than ours. (And perhaps not coincidentally, the 2024 Mindset List is not up yet.)
Tallahassee has decided that we shall make do. It is not clear how long this decision to partially reopen will stand. We are all crossing our fingers and hoping that this does not lead to a spike. In this issue, we stop to look at where we are and where we are going.
Meanwhile, the economy continues its bumpy ride, which brings us back to the budget.
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon on Zoom. On the agenda: new faculty, plans for the coming year, reopening, consolidation, and more. And here are the minutes for the previous meeting.
This is the first chapter meeting of Autumn. Any employee in the Bargaining Unit may attend, but you must have an invitation: contact the Chapter Secretary. We will meet on alternate Fridays at noon over Zoom. Meetings and events are posted on the Events Calendar of the UFF USF Website. Come and check us out.
Many of our students are struggling during this crisis, and the USF Foundation is supporting the USF Food Pantries to help out. They are accepting non-perishable donations, but one can also make monetary donations for the pantries at St. Petersburg, Sarasota / Manatee, and Tampa.
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Yes, we are on social media.
In July, AAAS Science reported that by June, over twenty nations had reopened their schools in what Science called "a vast, uncontrolled experiment." The schools took a variety of precautions, but it was still rather early in the pandemic to reach any conclusions. Earlier this month, Business Insider reported that schools were opening and closing around the world as experts learned more about the virus (and as politicians learned more about what they could get away with).
WHO and UNICEF recently put the issue, for Africa at least, in stark relief: children not at school are suffering because of reduced interaction with their peers, violence against children has increased, nutrition has declined as children miss school meals, teenage pregnancy rates are rising, and parents are losing income because they have to stay home.
If WHO and UNICEF can hope that African schools can cautiously reopen, why can't the United States?
The easy answer is on the front page of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center: nearly a quarter of all confirmed coronavirus cases and over a fifth of all coronavirus deaths globally are in the USA. And their Global Map shows that while some places might be in a plausible position to conduct vast, uncontrolled experiments, the US is not. Perhaps unsurprisingly, on August 6, Johns Hopkins University announced that they would be online in fall and told students to stay home.
Other higher education institutions - and other K-12 schools - have announced that they will be online in fall, but not so much in Florida. Tallahassee has been vehement about keeping schools open, which is why the Florida Education Association has filed suit to have the local authorities decide on reopening K-12 schools (and the FEA has just won the first round in court).
Tallahassee's vehemence seems to extend to higher education as well, and United Faculty of Florida send a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis "strongly" urging him "to issue directives to transition all of Florida’s Institutions of Higher Education to remote learning." UFF USF President Art Shapiro sent and open letter to USF President Steve Currall stating that "We strongly believe that the online learning model is the safest model in view of the extreme danger to the health of everyone on the campus should we move into face-to-face models"; Currall thanked Shapiro, and wrote that, "The University of South Florida takes seriously our responsibility to promote a safe environment for our community and is taking significant steps to help keep faculty members safe, including but not limited to giving those who identify in a high-risk category priority to teach courses online and providing sanitization supplies for instructional and research spaces."
And so this week, USF is (partially) open, and we are all crossing our fingers.
For several months, experts around the country have been warning that student compliance with pandemic precautions would not last, noting similar self-regulatory problems with alcohol, drugs, race, sex, and tobacco. The response has been educational campaigns more intense but otherwise not strikingly different from those concerning alcohol, drugs, race, sex, and tobacco.
Meanwhile, many students don't trust their institutions to keep them safe. Student, faculty, and staff trust was so weak in North Carolina that university employees filed a lawsuit stating that the North Carolina system "cannot, in the face of this pandemic, provide conditions and places of employment safe or 'free from' recognized hazards associated with COVID-19 by returning students to these campuses and the communities in which they are located under the current plans ... where they will live in poorly ventilated dormitories and classroom spaces, be expected (as college-age students) to fully comply, both on-campus and off-campus, with the 'mandatory' mask and 'social distancing' rules."
As many institutions are opening for fall, Covid-19 cases are spiking at universities nationwide, compliance is indeed a problem after all, and some opened institutions are blaming young women and men for acting like young women and men, especially after parties and social activities. In particular, a week after classes started in North Carolina and Covid-19 cases spiked, Chapel Hill sent students home and went online.
Meanwhile, some of the institutions that had decided early to go online found that the decision gave everyone a clear picture of the fall to prepare for, and there seemed to be few regrets.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield has warned that this semester could be "the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we've ever had," and very strongly advised everyone to at least get the regular flu vaccine in September or October.
Last week, Sadaf Knight of the Florida Policy Institute wrote in the Tampa Bay Times that the state government faced a likely $ 5.4 billion shortfall over the next two years, or about 3 %. The state budget must be balanced, so many politicians are planning for cuts. And so at the instructions of the Florida State University System Board of Governors, last week, the USF Administration conducted an exercise to find out what can be cut once Tallahassee decides what the cuts are to be.
But there are alternatives. Knight proposed tax reform: without raising tax rates, she recommended eliminating some subsidies and tax breaks, closing tax loopholes, and enforcing online taxes. The last step, which she projected would bring in half a billion a year, would also help local businesses that are hurting because of competition with out-of-state online giants.
It all depends on what Tallahassee's priorities are.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, August 28, at noon, via Zoom. All UFF USF members are welcome: for the Zoom link, contact the Chapter Secretary.the Chapter Secretary. Come and join the movement.
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