Fall 2020 Opening Remarks to College of Arts and Sciences
Let me begin by quoting from reports disseminated by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium, which has conducted several surveys of university students and staff since emergency remote instruction was implemented last March.
From the report on findings from a survey of 6,220 staff members at 29 colleges and universities:
“First, the staff who responded to this survey are experiencing a heavy combination of worry and stress brought on by the impact of COVID-19 on them, their families, their communities, and their institutions. It is sobering to review survey data pointing to such consistent and widespread negative consequences of a phenomenon. COVID-19 is a relentless disaster from which it is difficult to find any respite. It’s on the news, it’s in social media, it’s changing our jobs and our lives, it’s the topic of many conversations, it affects how we interact with our communities, and it creates persistent uncertainty. And the less power, privilege, or status someone has, the more deeply they experience these negative impacts.”
And, from the report on findings from a survey of 20,000 students from 40 institutions:
“Like many of us, students have great stress and worry about the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. More than that, students who have less privileged identities, experiences, and backgrounds are experiencing these stresses and worries more acutely. Another way of thinking about this is that students who have not felt as welcomed to our campus communities are paying a steeper price than majority students as the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on.”
And in Florida, roll on it does.
In addition to these virus-related concerns, we have additional challenges associated with the modalities in which we are teaching this semester. There is ample evidence that most students, and FGCU students, in particular, prefer in-person teaching and learning to online and remote forms of instruction. And for good reason. Several studies have found that online students are less successful than students taking the same courses in face-to-face and blended environments. Further, first generation and under-represented minority students, who make up a significant proportion of FGCU students, are more disadvantaged by online learning than their peers who come to the university possessed of greater social and educational capital.
As you can see, I’m no Pollyanna, but neither am I without hope, and I’m still experiencing the optimism and excitement I typically feel at the start of the fall semester. At least two things fuel my belief that we can provide a successful intellectual and emotional experience to students this year. First, there is ample evidence from the research conducted since the start of the pandemic that students who experience care and concern from their faculty, who are provided with structure, stability, and consistency in their courses, and who are treated flexibly with respect for their unique and very particular circumstances persist in their courses and experience academic satisfaction and success. No matter the modality, all of us can act in these ways. And second, my faith is reinforced by the students themselves. For example, this fall I’m teaching a course that will meet once a week. Given the opportunity to attend this class in-person or remotely, 23 out of 25 students have told me they plan to attend face-to-face. In their emails to me some have said that they learn better in person, others say that they have missed human contact and are willing to take whatever precautions are necessary to meet in a more or less traditional classroom setting. Whatever their reasons, I am moved by their desire to learn and the faith they are placing in us as their faculty, staff, and colleagues. Our students are placing their trust in us: trust that we will teach to the best of our ability, that we will prioritize their safety, that we will recognize their uniqueness and their autonomy, and that we will not give up on them, no matter the circumstances that arise in these uncertain times. As I said before, we are capable of doing all these things, and my interactions with many, many of you throughout the spring and summer make me confident that our students have made the right choice to return to us next week. Thank you.