UA instructors argue academic freedom includes the right to teach remotely

By Rocio Hernandez
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2022 - 5:24pm
Updated: Wednesday, January 12, 2022 - 8:09am

More than a hundred University of Arizona instructors have sent their provost a letter arguing for the right to teach remotely when the semester begins on Wednesday amid the latest surge of COVID cases.

In a Monday letter, the instructors with the United Campus Workers Arizona union sent a letter to Provost Lisel Folks in response to a Jan. 7 memo from Provost Lisel Folks in which she said they must deliver instruction in the mode that students signed up for. They also criticized administrators' decision to start the semester with in-person classes "despite significant rises in COVID-19 infections and Tucson hospitals being at maximum capacity."

The union has also called for the university to start the spring semester virtually. 

“This is not a lockdown. This is taking a temporary pause, going remote for a week or two, tracking the numbers and responsibility addressing the needs of our students," said UA Professor of Higher Education and United Campus Workers Arizona union member Gary Rhoades. 

Instructors argue academic freedom not only allows them to teach the content of their choice, but also deliver the content in ways they deem necessary. Any attempt to discipline them for teaching remotely will be seen as a breach of academic freedom, they said.

Logistical matters such as the progress, consistency, and equity of course delivery to all students can only be decided by individual instructors," the group stated in the letter. "These matters must not be dictated by those who do not work in a classroom. If the central administration will not guarantee safe classrooms, then individual instructors must use their discretion to prevent disease spread and ensure equitable delivery of curriculum to all students."

Faculty and instructors can work with their department heads on temporary adjustments to class modalities if they test positive, Folks said in the memo.

The university encourages other instructors with concerns to reach out to their department heads or human resources, the institution said in an email to KJZZ News, adding that all proposed changes to teaching modalities will need to be approved by the academic unit and the provost’s office so the university can be sure it's meeting the needs of its students, to the best of its ability, during these challenging times.

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