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Faculty Senate passes resolution expressing displeasure about pressure to return to campus

Photo by Jeff Fitlow | The Rice Thresher

photo credit: Jeff Fitlow

By Savannah Kuchar     9/2/20 11:25am

A resolution from the Aug. 19 Faculty Senate plenary meeting expressing faculty dissension with Rice’s campus reopening plan was recently approved, according to an email sent to faculty on Sept. 1 by Speaker of the Faculty Senate Christopher Johns-Krull.

“The faculty of Rice University expresses its deep disappointment that in spite of the stated principle of ‘choice,’ some faculty and staff members felt under pressure to be physically present on campus,” the resolution reads.

The resolution was initially approved by plenary meeting attendants, and was then sent to the entire voting faculty in a balloted vote managed by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, according to the email by Johns-Krull.

According to Johns-Krull’s email, of the 809 ballots that were sent to voting faculty, 429 were cast, and of those 267 voted in favor of the resolution.

The plenary session was called in response to a petition started by computer science professor Moshe Vardi, which received 94 signatures from faculty members at the time of the plenary meeting.

“The Rice administration has been using the slogan of ‘choice’ for students, faculty and staff,” Vardi said. “This resolution by the Rice faculty acknowledges that there was a gap between slogan and reality, as both faculty and staff came under implicit pressure to be physically present on campus. It is important that choice be a true guiding principle and not a mere slogan.”

Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby has previously said that faculty were all given the choice of teaching on campus or remotely.

“We've been operating under a broad principle of choice,” Kirby said. “Everybody has different personal circumstances. Same for the faculty because people have different concerns. We gave all faculty the opportunity to teach remotely or to teach in person. And to the maximum extent we could for staff. We've had many staff working remotely over the summer, and some will continue to work remotely over the fall.”

Director of First-year Writing Intensive Seminars David Messmer said he did not feel any direct pressure to return to campus, but that non-tenure track faculty do face additional difficult decisions this semester.

“For many [non-tenure track] faculty this is a time of tremendous unease as our jobs are not guaranteed to the degree that those of tenured faculty are,” Messmer said. “Given the value that the university has placed on the ‘campus experience’ it makes sense that, without direct assurances to the contrary, many [non-tenure track] faculty saw a link between teaching in person and job security.”

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