The Case For Returning to In-Person Classes
On October 2 and 10, Fresno Pacific University announced that it planned to reopen for the upcoming Spring 2021 semester, and offered a mix of in-person, online, and hybrid classes for students. This decision sparked a large-scale, but ultimately little-publicized, debate among students and teachers alike about the efficacy and safety of returning to campus at this time. Neither side is without points, and while I cannot speak for everyone else who wishes to return this spring, from the perspective of an out-of-state student, the benefits can be seen as far outweighing the risks.
It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, and that returning to school will reintroduce the risk of infection, especially for those with compromised immune systems or other underlying health problems. Those who are in close contact with such people are also justifiably worried and so cannot return in good conscience. Their concerns are valid and should not be addressed as anything else.
Yet it is many of these very concerns that FPU is addressing. The smorgasboard of safety features, from the plastic dividers in classrooms and dining facilities to the required health check-ins, are more in-depth than many public locations or institutions. Gyms, for example, are opening up again in numerous locations around the country; few outbreaks have been traced to them, and often there is little regulation beyond the need to wear a mask, maintain social distancing and wipe down the equipment after use. These facilities are also open to a much wider range of people (in terms of age and background) than Fresno Pacific. If they are able to do such a thing without any rashes of infection or (God forbid) casualties, then surely FPU’s far more advanced measures can be effective as well when dealing with an age group that, in general, has been affected less than others by the virus.
Places like stores and gyms are reopening as a matter of necessity: the services they provide to the public (and especially to their employees) are too invaluable to be shut down for long. Similarly, those students who attend FPU from outside California (and perhaps outside the United States) are being given precedence by the school in housing and moving back in. This is likely because they have needs that can be addressed by campuses reopening.
In the first place, moving between school and home in the usual school year-summer cycle often creates a separate mindset for each. When at home, we are used to allowing our mind to wander and to relax about scholarly pursuits. Being restricted to one’s house so far away from the school therefore increases the challenge of keeping one’s mind on their schooling, which is already difficult due to the inherent nature of online classes. They are also restricted in terms of the resources at their disposal: Herbert Library is all but impossible to make use of without access to physical books, and different time zones between states can result in tremendous scheduling conflicts between both home and school. This goes double for those student athletes who traditionally come from abroad—and the situation is even worse for those who have not been able to return to their home country.
The FPU campus also offers an easily controllable and monitorable environment. Out-of-state students will be further away from those friends and family members back home who are at significant risk, and will be an environment where their health, by rule, must be regularly verified. Quarantine and recovery of infected students are also easier tasks for the administration and students if they are relatively close to the school, especially with stringent social distancing rules and private housing in place. If anything, it may prove safer than some students’ homes: chores and the needs of their family can often cause one to venture out more often, putting themselves and those at home (where more strict and professional safety standards are often not enforced or difficult) at risk. This is not a demand that FPU become entirely locked-in and not allow students to leave campus at all, but the social-distancing policy and health checkups ensure that any risks will be under greater control than at home.
I, at least, feel that the resources and environment of a Fresno Pacific with such safety measures in place are well worth returning to campus for. This is not a prescription for everyone; there are those who doubtless have good reasons for wanting to stay away until the situation is more cleared up. However, returning to Fresno Pacific would provide me with an environment in which I am used to doing the strenuous academic work required as a student, and it has been fortified in such a way that I feel, at the very worst, no less safe than my own home.
Author: Luke Fredette | Chief Copy Editor
The Case Against Returning to In-Person Classes
On November 2, Vice President for Campus Life Dale Scully and President Joseph Jones released an email to all traditional undergraduate students announcing that FPU would be returning to campus for the spring 2021 semester. Registrar Danielle Jeffress also released an email on November 10 that detailed specifics about returning to campus: according to Jeffress’ email, courses will be offered through three different delivery methods next semester: face-to-face, hybrid and remote.
While I share excitement with many at the prospect of returning to campus, it must be said that both face-to-face and hybrid classes are too ambitious given the current state of the pandemic. As of November 12, Fresno County was averaging 162.9 new cases of COVID-19 per day according to The New York Times. The Washington Post also noted that the United States reached 150,000 infections as of November 12—a record high, and the number has continued to climb. With several European countries entering their second lockdown, many suspect that the US will do the same, as mentioned in a recent article published by Insider.
It cannot be stressed enough that Fresno Pacific is still susceptible to the pandemic. Even with pandemic protocols in place, there is no guarantee that all members of the FPU community will wear masks or socially distance properly: in fact, on September 18, Student Life released an email admonishing resident students for failing to wear masks on and around campus. Although Student Life promised to assert stricter policies—“documentation of mask policy violations will ensue and students will be subjected to the student conduct process who refuse to comply,” according to the email—it must be recognized that those members of the community who neglect the protocols put the rest of the community at risk.
Furthermore, as recently as November 10, Human Resources announced that a member of the FPU community had tested positive. Admittedly, Fresno Pacific University News reported that the university has only seen eight cases total since the start of the pandemic; however, these cases developed during some of the emptiest months on campus. The number of COVID-19 cases at FPU could easily swell in the coming months. In a recent issue of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, staff writer Sara Weissman noted that many higher education institutions which attempted to reopen in August saw a flux of COVID-19 cases on their campuses. The University of North Carolina (UNC) was among the hardest hit after several clusters of COVID-19 were discovered among students. “Ultimately,” Weissman wrote of UNC, “university leadership decided to reclose campus.”
Perhaps it is most important to note that this is not the first time that Fresno Pacific has planned for a semester of blended courses and failed to uphold that promise: on July 7, 2020, Provost Gayle Copeland released an email to the FPU student body stating that “Blended and online instruction will be available and previously scheduled online courses will continue” for the fall 2020 semester. But only two and a half weeks later, President Jones announced on July 24 that “FPU, along with all other private colleges and universities and public school districts, needs to continue classes online for the fall semester.” With only a month to prepare for this sudden change in course delivery, faculty scrambled to piece together new syllabi for their online courses, and residential students were forced to reconsider their housing situation for the next few months.
While FPU’s efforts are laudable, our administrative leaders must recognize that current trends may not guarantee a safe return to campus by next semester. I admit that I am tempted by the idea of returning to a semblance of normality and share the opinion that our current situation is less than ideal; however, wishful thinking will do little to preserve the health and safety of our community. Until the pandemic poses less of a threat, I strongly urge the university against a return to campus.
Author: Kassandra Klein | Copy Editor