Faculty addresses concerns over spring semester schedule, testing regulation

A+faculty+assembly+meeting+in+January.+

Media: Stephanie Purifoy

A faculty assembly meeting in January.

By Dana Gerber, Deputy News Editor

Professors criticized the administration’s proposed calendar for the spring semester, as well as its COVID-19 data reporting process, during a Faculty Assembly meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The complaints come after what appeared to be a finalized version of the calendar was posted on the Emerson website, with spring break canceled. A college official later confirmed to The Beacon that the break would be cancelled, in order to “ensure the health and wellbeing of our campus community amid the continued pandemic.” 

During the meeting, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan clarified that the calendar is only “proposed,” a change now also reflected on the college’s website

Spring break is one of the holidays named in the full-time faculty collective bargaining agreement, which is the legal contract between Emerson College and the full-time faculty union. In order to remove spring break, therefore, faculty have to be consulted. 

“In order for them to eliminate the spring break, they have to…have union leadership approve that change,” Chair of Faculty Assembly Heather May said in an interview after the meeting. 

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May said she believes the Academic Affairs department wasn’t aware that the collective bargaining agreement protects spring break, and that is why the college released the spring semester calendar as if it were finalized. 

“I do believe that it was simply an oversight by Academic Affairs, but it could have been avoided by just checking in with their faculty leadership,” May said. “To me, that says that they don’t feel that something as important as the calendar needs to be run by the faculty.”

May said she will send a survey to all faculty and staff members by the end of the week to solicit their opinions on the schedule.

“This version of the calendar would require faculty union support,” Whelan said in an emailed statement after the meeting. “I think the survey will raise good questions, and the committee will work together to address those.”

Whelan said the Calendar Committee, which is composed of faculty and administration and discusses and makes recommendations on the academic calendar, plans to meet next week to discuss the schedule further. That committee has not met since the summer of 2018.

Some faculty members voiced support for the elimination of spring break, since it may help to lower COVID-19 transmission brought about by student travel. 

Nancy Allen, a professor in the Marlboro Institute, raised concerns about the mental health toll that a semester with no breaks would take on students and faculty. Communication Sciences and Disorders professor Lisa Wisman Weil posed the prospect of “reading days,” or allotted time to study with no scheduled classes, before finals. The spring calendar will also affect how professors plan their spring semester classes, Allen said.

“It may very well be exactly the right thing to do—that’s really not the issue,” May said. “The issue is just that we have to follow the procedure as put forth by the college and the union.”

Several faculty members also brought up the college’s COVID-19 data reporting, questioning whether the college was regulating or tracking if students are getting tested weekly as they are supposed to. 

Associate Vice President for IT Brian Basgen said auditing of student testing compliance is “a work in progress,” adding that tracking and reaching out to students who miss their weekly test is “not at a perfect place yet.” He did not know if students who skip tests face penalties. 

“It’s something that we definitely worry about, and perhaps not for any concrete reasons other than we’ve seen what happens at other universities if somebody slips through the cracks,” May said. “What happens if somebody doesn’t show up for a test? And that was the part of the answer that I think probably needed maybe a bit more information.”

The assembly also approved a change to the faculty handbook that would allow term faculty— who are non-tenured, full-time professors—to receive the status of emeritus or emerita upon retiring. Previously, only tenured faculty could receive the status. This can also be given retroactively to professors who have already retired.