Illinois State University faculty took the first steps Thursday toward asserting the power to make their own decisions individually about whether they feel safe teaching face-to-face this fall.
More than 400 faculty and invited guests attended an online meeting focused on concerns about ISU’s reopening plan. That plan-in-progress, dubbed Redbirds Return, calls for a mix of face-to-face, hybrid, and online-only courses. Residence hall and dining centers will be open with new restrictions. On-campus coronavirus testing will be available for students. Masks will be required, but enforcement is muddy.
Over 500 faculty, staff, students, and supporters recently signed a letter to ISU President Larry Dietz expressing concern about the reopening and its impact on student, employee, and community health.
That letter prompted Academic Senate chair Susan Kalter to call an All-Faculty meeting for Thursday night. At its peak, at least 427 people were in attendance.
The letter asked that ISU “commit to full transparency regarding planning and budgeting decisions for the foreseeable future.” Despite that, the news media was not allowed into Thursday’s meeting. Kalter said the meeting “is not under the Open Meetings Act,” declining further comment about media access. A WGLT reporter obtained access through an attendee.
Faculty on Thursday approved two resolutions of substance that would eventually be forwarded to the Academic Senate’s Faculty Caucus and Dietz. The first seeks assurances from the university that instructors will have the autonomy to decide themselves whether to teach, attend meetings, or hold office hours remotely, in-person, or a hybrid. It passed with a vote of 180 to 25. The second re-affirms that ISU administration will ensure faculty play a central role in all decisions related to academics. That passed with a vote of 122 to 26.
Thursday’s meeting was hindered at times by technology. About an hour was spent trying to give faculty in attendance a reliable and accurate way to vote via Zoom. Several attendees raised concerns about the credibility of the voting process.
Attendance tapered off during that hour.
“It’s shocking to me that we started with 427 people and we’re now down to 346,” one faculty member said. “This is frustrating beyond words.”
When the meeting adjourned after 2 hours and 45 minutes, about half of the original attendees already had left the meeting. Kalter stressed that the necessary quorum for the meeting was 74 people, and they were well over that number.
The meeting opened with several faculty members spelling out their concerns. “ISU gaslighted us,” one professor said, accusing the administration of secrecy and insufficient planning on testing. Another spoke of a second circulating letter with around 300 signatures and said she felt the administration was doing the best it could. A third professor, in support of the resolution, stressed that faculty should get the final say on course modality—not their department chair or higher-ups—and that a crisis like this was no reason to veer away from ISU’s long history of shared governance.
Thursday’s meeting adjourned around 8:45 p.m. and will resume with further discussion and votes at 6 p.m. Monday.
One of the pending resolutions set to be discussed then would ask that the Academic Senate chair be included in “all discussions by the Emergency Operations Committee related to the academic area broadly conceived.”
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