USC in-person learning worries faculty and staff

The quick return to in-person learning leads faculty and staff to air their grievances in statements and Instagram posts.

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Lacking a hybrid model to in-person teaching nearly a month back on campus, some faculty and staff continue to raise concerns with the university’s handling of safety protocols.

“Earlier this summer, we were told that each individual unit would get to make a decision on how we would return to campus,” said Patrick Patterson, an assistant registrar of enrollment services. “Then about two weeks ahead of time at the beginning of August, they said, ‘Actually, no. Everyone has to come back mid-August, five days a week.’”

The sudden decision to return to campus left some staff upset, prompting the creation of a United Statement of Grave Concerns. The statement expresses fears regarding the safety of staff, faculty, students, the neighboring USC community, and what they say is a poor example that USC leadership is setting.

“We call on University leadership to (a) provide transparency for university-wide decisions, (b) authentically lead in a compassionate and empathetic manner, and (c) trust USC employees and restore their agency to make health- and service-based decisions without fear of losing their jobs,” the statement reads.

Additionally, a petition was filed for the implementation of a hybrid model of in-person classes and Zoom that would alleviate concerns like the issue of full capacity indoor classrooms, or students not adhering to COVID-19 prevention protocols by offering both in-person and online avenues for students, staff, and faculty.

“In my six years at USC, I’ve never heard the staff so upset, and I’ve never heard the staff asking for this kind of support,” USC Annenberg Professor Christina Dunbar-Hester said. “It was really hard for them at the very last minute to be told you have to be here full time in person.”

The Instagram account Concerned Staff of USC was created for staff to anonymously air grievances about being back on campus without a hybrid model. “Being asked to return to work and be ‘all hands on deck’ and to ‘go back to normal’ feels like we are being asked to vacuum while the house is on fire,” an anonymous staff member of seven years said in a post. “We are being forced to risk our lives and the lives of those around us to maintain the facade of the University’s greatness.”

When asked for comments about USC staff’s concerns about teaching in person, USC provided Annenberg Media with a statement from the Provost that was sent to staff on Aug. 12, 2021.

“USC leadership did not take lightly the decision to resume in-person operations and to bring many employees back full-time,” the Provost Office said in the statement. “While each school and administrative unit was able to determine how best to meet their workforce needs, in the end, a holistic view of all the academic unit restart plans left campus too sparsely populated to service the community.”