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Massachusetts Society of Professors

The Union of Faculty and Librarians at UMass Amherst

3/11/2020 MSP Response to COVID-19 Developments

As our campus makes major changes to adapt to the public health threat of coronavirus, we are inspired by the way our members are coming together to support each other and our students. We want to keep you included in the discussions about issues that affect faculty, staff, and students.

First and foremost, we are concerned about your health and that of your loved ones. Our hearts go out to the many members of the UMass community who have already been affected by COVID-19. We recognize the great stress that our colleagues and students from China, Iran, Italy, South Korea and other affected countries have been facing in recent weeks. Many in our community are worried about their loved ones and uncertain as to when they will be able to return home. Please know that we are thinking of you and we will support you in any way we can.

The Chancellor has suspended in-person classes through April 3 at least. We do not believe that the situation will be significantly better by April 3, and so we recommend that faculty prepare now to teach remotely for the remainder of this semester.

MSP is distinguishing between “remote” teaching and learning, on the one hand, and “online education” on the other. Current circumstances require that we move our teaching to remote systems now. We cannot expect faculty to make the shift to online education in a week or two; teaching online well requires substantial time and support to develop, skills, create pedagogically sound activities and assessments, and build the course, What we are doing now, in response to a public health crisis, is shifting to a “remote” model so that our students can finish the semester. MSP is committed to ensuring that any changes happening now are considered temporary responses to a crisis situation, not “the new normal.”

Some of you have extensive experience with teaching online, while others have none. Some courses are effective in online formats, while others -- art studios, lab courses, clinical teaching -- are difficult if not impossible. Given the tight timeframe, we should keep our expectations realistic. To teach remotely, you need to be able to do three basic things:

-- a way to contact your students
-- a way to exchange files with your students
-- a way to assess your students’ work

We can assure you that all of the protections of the MSP contract remain in effect. The MSP contract protects our intellectual property whether we post materials online or teach in person, and we have specific language in the contract to protect remote teaching.

MSP members have many questions for the administration about support for remote education, and about the labor that will be required as we adapt to new systems this spring. We are making the following recommendations:

We have heard from numerous faculty and librarians, and we share their concerns:

We met with the other staff unions and administrators this afternoon, and we hope to get answers to our many questions soon. As always, we work in solidarity to advocate for our students, faculty, staff, and community. Our world faces many challenges, but we are in this together, and together we are strong.

In solidarity,
Eve Weinbaum for the MSP Executive Board

(From 3/11/2020 All Unit Email)