Just weeks after the publication of a petition calling for the reinstatement of William Clark, a former adjunct communication professor at The University of Tampa, students have begun to wonder why he was fired for doing what many professors at UT have done.
“I think every one of my professors has been open to suggestions on how to make every student comfortable and whether they hold classes in-person or online,” said Amanda Hamilton, junior advertising public relations major.
With some students still concerned about their safety due to COVID-19, Clark allowed his students to decide if they wanted to take his classes online or in-person. For students who felt comfortable enough to attend in-person classes, he made accommodations for them to do so.
“The only courses that are offered fully remotely are those where the faculty member has been granted COVID-related accommodation to teach remotely,” said David Stern, provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “There is a clearly defined process for requesting such accommodation, just as there has been for students.”
The accommodations made by Clark were allegedly in violation of the university’s Spartan Shield Health and Safety Plan resulting in the termination of Clark’s teaching contract.
“I understand that it was against UT’s policy, but in all honesty, our school has done the minimum compared to other universities,” said Hamilton. “Most schools give students the choice to attend in-person or online and most people I know at other universities are being tested for COVID-19 weekly, limiting anxiety about in-person classes.”
“That professor did not deserve to be fired,” said Stephanie Carrion, junior elementary education major. “Pedagogically speaking, by allowing his students to choose how they would like to receive instruction, he created a learning environment of comfort and support for his students.”
According to the Spartan Shield Health and Safety Plan, classes will be held fully in-person unless classroom sizes and course enrollment prevent proper social distancing. In such instances, classes may take place by way of smaller face-to-face meetings or by the use of educational technology.
The plan shows that remote learning is likely to only be granted for elderly or ill professors who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and students who have a medical condition, enter quarantine, commuter students who live with someone who may be at risk of contracting COVID-19, or international students who could not return to the university due to travel restrictions.
If classes are scheduled to be held in-person, remotely, or in a hybrid format at the beginning of a semester, then the classes are to remain in those formats unless changes are otherwise approved by the university.
Some students believe that professors’ decisions to move classes to a remote format mid-semester should be acceptable in certain cases.
Hamilton had a class switch from in-person to remote learning for the last two months of the fall semester and she found the change necessary and beneficial.
“It was a four-hour class once a week and splitting the class in half and doing two hours in-person was very unproductive for our class,” said Hamilton. “It was harder for us to get through everything in a two-hour in-person time once a week.”
While some students understand the policies that have been set by UT, others do not agree with them.
“I think that UT’s policy for who gets to be remote and not is way too strict,” said Carrion. “I heard many stories about people who have not been approved to participate remotely even though they asked to.”
Several students have reported that they have had professors who started the semester in-person and then moved the class to remote learning mid-semester.
A survey taken by 17 UT students confirmed that there have been other professors who have made changes to the settings of their classrooms for the safety and convenience of their students.
The results showed that 88.24 percent of those who took the survey reported that they have had professors who have asked students whether they would prefer if a class was held via Zoom or in-person.
The survey also revealed that students have been more likely to have communications courses moved to remote learning than any other subject.
Approximately 71% of the students reported that they have had professors move classes completely remote mid-semester, but almost 59% would prefer to have their classes held in an in-person classroom setting.
“I prefer in-person classes because I have more opportunity to work one-on-one with my professors,” said Carrion. “With that being said, I have no issue with remote courses being offered and taking them – especially safety-wise.”
For classes that have been held in-person, professors have been lax with their students.
“This semester, none of my professors have moved class virtually, but they’re more chill with attendance so you can just take it over Zoom or not go at all,” said GiaMarie Beltran, sophomore psychology major.
Some students feel that UT should be less concerned about how professors choose to hold their classes and more concerned about COVID-19 regulations on campus.
“I think that UT firing that professor for allowing his students to participate in the format that made them comfortable is a waste of their time and they are not focusing on the more important parts of their guideline,” said Carrion. “For example, there are still tons of students who are in different indoor areas that do not wear their masks – Starbucks is a perfect example.”
“Crowd and mask management has decreased significantly at UT and that is a much bigger issue than a professor caring for his students,” said Carrion.
Now that students are aware that professors could potentially lose their jobs for offering students the option to choose how they would like to proceed with classes, some are afraid to mention whether specific professors have provided students the option.
“I would absolutely be scared to mention that one of my professors gave us the option,” said Hamilton. “Every professor I’ve had since COVID-19 has been caring and understanding to this new adjustment. We are all concerned for our safety and ability to still get our degrees. It makes me so sad that any of my professors could be fired for trying to respect student concerns.”
“If I knew they would lose their job over it, I would probably object and express to everyone that class in-person would be more beneficial to everyone’s learning,” said Beltran. “I wouldn’t want a professor losing their job over it.”
Students want their voices to be heard and considered by university officials.
“I hope that the university listens to what students say about Professor Clark, everyone I know who has had him has nothing but good things to say about him,” said Hamilton. “These times have been hard for students, but also professors, and we should all remember that and try to be more understanding and accommodating for everyone that is a part of UT.”