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The University Star




The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Faculty Senate discusses in-person return, vaccine rollout

A+person+walks+through+the+Quad%2C+Tuesday%2C+March+31%2C+2020%2C+at+Texas+State.

A person walks through the Quad, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at Texas State.

Texas State Faculty Senate spoke about the return to in-person classes, increasing mental health resources for students and providing more information on vaccines at its Jan. 27 meeting. 
Co-chairs of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Development Task Force Alejandra Sorto and Peter Golato began the meeting by presenting an update on the initiative, which has a goal of enhancing Texas State’s educational quality beyond 2020. 
Students would be introduced to the intricacies and benefits of research through a series of courses and projects with or without faculty by their side. Golato hopes the program will open doors for students not usually exposed to research projects and endeavors.
A student undergoing the program would take part in workshops and courses covering the fundamentals of research, leading to another series of courses where students would eventually conduct their own research with a mentor to gain hands-on experience.
“If a faculty member opts to mentor a student, that kind of activity now [is] eligible for workload credit,” Golato says. “We understand the ‘may’; it doesn’t say that it will be…but at least it is a possibility. We’re delighted about that, just because we really want to see these faculty who opt to work with students this way be rewarded in some way other than, ‘That was a job well done.’”
Senate member Lynn Ledbetter debriefed the Senate on a meeting of the Non-tenure Line Faculty Committee, detailing a positive meeting where members discussed the reinitiation of the Bookcats Book Club, a book club for the university’s non-tenure line faculty.
Faculty Senate then discussed TRIO McNair grants at the university, a series of programs established by Congress through Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 intended to help low-income Americans. Mainly, the addition of a faculty member in an advisory role in drafting proposals, part of the Senate or not.
Senate Chair Janet Bezner delivered notes covering a Jan. 26 Council of Academic Deans meeting, relaying a question over the return to face-to-face after the suggested two-week pivot to online learning for the beginning of the spring 2021 semester presented by Provost Gene Bourgeois. Bezner asks if returning to in-person classes would be safe since most COVID-19 transmission is occurring from decisions made in the “personal lives” of faculty and students, despite the university’s claims there has been no transmission of COVID-19 on campus. 
“[Bourgeois] said because we are physically distancing, and we are wearing masks, they don’t feel like it’s a risk and there’s no evidence it’s a risk because there was no transmission last year,” Bezner says. 
According to Bezner, Bourgeois also says programs requiring little social distancing or dealing with patients could require students to be tested frequently. Senate member Ben Martin asks if the school would be “nimble” should more transmissible and dangerous variants of COVID-19 appear in the community. 
Senate member Rachel Davenport says it should be up to faculty to choose to be in the classroom and emphasized the importance of faculty choice in the matter, especially when online learning has worked well for certain classes. 
“Our constituents, some of them, are terrified to be in the classroom and yet feel forced into it, especially our non-tenure line faculty or adjunct faculty,” Davenport says. “I think that’s awful; I think that we should have a choice. We also saw that classes sometimes can be taught better online than trying to do [hybrid and other modalities]. That said, we pushed and pushed and pushed, and that went nowhere.”
Senate member Jennifer Jensen argues some of the metrics the university says it uses to gauge its COVID-19 response, like hospitalizations and transmission rates, are skyrocketing, putting the safety of classrooms and the lack of in-classroom transmission as a statistic in doubt. Jensen also seeks clarification on whether a return to a face-to-face classroom for faculty meant a return for students and teaching both online and in-person classes. 
Bezner agrees with Jensen on the need for clarification, saying “they stopped short of saying [we] should Zoom in addition or not.” Bezner says she was told classes scheduled to be in-person would make the transition the week of Feb. 1, in larger, more socially distant classrooms.
“What I kept hearing was students want to be in the classroom,” Bezner says. “The data didn’t reflect that at the end of the fall — most students who could be in the classroom were on Zoom. I heard from many of you all that you were in a classroom by yourself.”
Senate members discussed items to add to the upcoming President’s Academic Advisory Group (PAAG) agenda on Feb. 3, including asking Bourgeois and University President Denise Trauth to “exhaust every resource” in making Texas State a vaccine hub, citing an email from Chief Medical Officer Emilio Carranco advising all the Texas State community to get vaccinated wherever possible due to the insufficient progression of the vaccine rollout on campus. 
The aforementioned freedom of choice and flexibility over the modality of classes in the upcoming semester is also on the list for the PAAG meeting, as well as bringing up the lack of mental health resources for students on campus. Senate member Michael Supancic cites an opinion column from The University Star referring to the limited mental health resources available to students while attending Texas State.
“[T]here are very few counselors, there’s only [12] and for the student’s entire experience at Texas State, they’re limited to 15 sessions across four years,” Supancic says. “That’s deplorable. That’s simply deplorable. Particularly, given the environment that we’re in right now.”
Ledbetter also suggests there should be more information available for students to vaccinate themselves given the email asking students to look elsewhere for inoculation. Bezner agrees, also acknowledging vaccine hubs following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines would likely not vaccinate students in the immediate future as most are not within priority groups. 
Bezner believes the lack of vaccines in college communities echoes the lack of vaccines available for communities of color and reflects a political bias on the part of the Texas government. 
“If you look at the data on who’s gotten the vaccine, it’s predominantly white people,” Bezner says. “This is completely political. They hate higher [education], why would they give the vaccine to us? They hate us because they think we’re all flaming left-wing liberals.”
Bezner brought forth the idea to ask Bourgeois about “$51 million [from the federal government] that was announced earlier this month” to the PAAG agenda, with hopes it can be reimbursed to faculty members for all their efforts adapting to instruction during COVID-19. 
“I’m not going to just sit here and take a pat on the back, ‘You did a good job,’” Bezner says. “This has been a year of significant sacrifice. I think I’ve aged 10 years in this year myself.”

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