UIC United Faculty Statement on UIC’s Return to Campus Policies
We, the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago, are united in our agreement on effective and safe teaching policies during the COVID-19 crisis for the upcoming academic year. Our two major demands – for the rights of faculty members to make their own risk assessment decisions and to establish their own approaches to remote learning, including policies on recording class sessions – together challenge the university’s efforts to assert unilateral, “one size fits all” policies where faculty autonomy is standard practice.

First, the administration has indicated that it will only exempt faculty from teaching in person if faculty can claim their own medical issues would put them at risk on campus. This policy ignores the possibility of exemptions based, for example, on a high-risk family member, a high-risk commute, or the need to pivot quickly to at-home remote learning for school age children.

It is our position that individual faculty members themselves are the only ones able to judge their wider risk-context, and UIC should follow many other institutions, including neighboring University of Chicago, in this matter. The administration trusts UIC students to assess risks and make decisions on an individual basis; it follows that faculty should be given the same autonomy. It is unethical and unconscionable that the administration would knowingly attempt to require individual faculty members to take on serious risks against their own good judgment.

Second, the administration says it plans to require faculty to record all synchronous classes. While we fully recognize the importance of equity in student access to course material, the unilateral requirement to record synchronous online or in-person classes -- so that some students might individually elect to learn asynchronously or remotely -- is pedagogically incoherent and ill-advised and creates a serious privacy concern for all involved. Furthermore, its unilateral nature is a violation of shared governance principles that are all the more important in times of crisis.

Teaching in-person, synchronously online, and asynchronously online require different pedagogical approaches, as our University-supported ION course training makes clear. While there are some models for making these modes of instruction work together that have been employed elsewhere to a limited extent, training of this sort of course hasn’t been made available to us. Also, the decision to go this route properly belongs to the faculty, in our academic units and in the Senate--a position affirmed in the Senate Executive Committee's July 14th Online Teaching Statement. Our expertise needs to be brought to bear on this question. Furthermore, we are concerned that requiring recording of live in-person and synchronous online classes potentially puts at risk students (such as those in domestic violence situations, where a student’s whereabouts might be aired by classmates sharing recordings on social media) and faculty (especially those who work with sensitive topics and would be vulnerable to harassment, doxxing, and worse) while simultaneously undermining guiding principles of the university by stifling the possibility of free classroom conversation. Students and faculty should be able to negotiate recording together without an overarching mandate from the administration.

In this challenging time, both university education and the realities of the pandemic are evolving quickly, and faculty around the world are exploring new techniques for effective online teaching and creating a vast array of tools, techniques, and approaches. The needs of classes in different disciplines vary widely; our university is at its best when it gives students the structure they need to succeed and allows faculty – who are both devoted instructors and experts in their fields – to decide how to do their work. UIC faculty must maintain the autonomy we have always had to structure our classes in the ways that will best serve our students.

We, the undersigned faculty, are united in agreement that the administration’s proposed policies, discussed above, are not acceptable. We are committed to supporting, in the strongest terms, any faculty who refuse to follow these policies in order to safeguard their health and that of their students and to teach in the way they deem most effective. We demand a policy that gives faculty autonomy at the time we need it the most.

UIC United Faculty members are invited to add their names to the statement below.
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