Higher Ed in the News: 5/18

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week, we look at one school’s plan for reopening campus and a look at how COVID-19 is impacting faculty of color. You can read previous editions of Higher Ed in the News here and here.

UC San Diego Launches Campus Reopening Strategy

With higher education’s focus shifting to the summer and fall planning, many wonder if returning to in-person instruction is realistic. Larry Gordon writes for EdSource that UC San Diego is planning to test over 5,000 on-campus students in the coming weeks as part of its “Return to Learn” initiative. 

According to Gordon, this initial rollout will involve a nasal swab test for COVID-19 and will be a warm-up for potential testing of all 65,000 students and staff who are scheduled to be on campus for the fall semester. Efforts to trace the origin of any infections are outlined in the initiative. Under the plan, UC San Diego students who test positive for coronavirus will be asked to quarantine, with a potential move to “dedicated isolation housing” also possible.

Peer institutions in California do not intend to follow suit just yet. A University of California spokesperson lamented that it’s “too early to assess whether it would be applicable or appropriate to implement systemwide” and made it clear that they’re not in any rush to make decisions that could adversely affect their 285,000 students. Similarly, California State University stated they’re being cautious regarding the safety of their 485,000 students but “considering all options to maintain the health and safety (of the) campus community.” 

Faculty of Color at Colleges and Universities Face Growing Challenges

In a recent piece for Diverse Education, Sara Weissman explores the disproportionate effect the coronavirus outbreak has had on faculty of color in higher education. The author pays particular attention to Black and Hispanic junior faculty members whose work has been drastically disrupted and who are fearing for their jobs, all while a ticking tenure clock hangs over their head. 

One solution that over 240 universities have implemented is to extend tenure clocks by a year, with the goal of supporting these vital contributors to the university as the coronavirus “upends their research and routines.” 

Weissman sought out the input of faculty members, finding that they approved of the tenure extensions and were keen to identify other issues schools will need to address. The threat of budget cuts stood high on that list of concerns, as they may affect less-established programs like ethnic studies, decrease grant funding, and force layoffs that would further the racial representation gap. According to the 2019 Pew Research Center study, only 27% of junior faculty and 19% of tenured professors are people of color.

Another concern was that the shutdown conditions and budget cuts may limit opportunities to expand research. The faculty panel recommended additional grant funding to enable continued research for faculty of color and a more balanced approach for tenure evaluation in regards to service versus research. As one professor said, “if you help your most vulnerable populations, you help everybody.” The hope is that administrators will feel this way too.