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Non-tenured faculty looks for flexibility in return to classes

February 21, 2023
<p>A chalk message outside of the library reads “Still Home” on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, for Spartan Sunday - an event organized by alumni and Spartan parents to welcome students and faculty back to campus.</p>

A chalk message outside of the library reads “Still Home” on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, for Spartan Sunday - an event organized by alumni and Spartan parents to welcome students and faculty back to campus.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

The MSU Union of Non-Tenured Track Faculty, or UNTF, has been in communication with the university administration students returning to campus the week of Feb. 20. The UNTF, which is the union for faculty members who are not in the tenure system, is asking for flexibility when it comes to students returning back to learning and calls for the University to listen to the needs of faculty and students during this time. 

Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures associate Professor and UNTF President Kate Birdsall said she feels “heartened” by the Office of Provost using the practice of trauma-informed teaching methods when making decisions about students returning to campus.  

Birdsall said according to trauma-informed teaching methods, returning to classrooms and communities can help process trauma in the future. 

“But there is no one size fits all approach right now," Birdsall said.

Classical and Romantic Studies Assistant Professor and UNTF Vice President Víctor Rodríguez-Pereira said the union has been in communication with administration and has discussed how professors should make decisions about their own classes. 

 He said MSU has responded in a “reasonable and flexible” manner when asked for leniency regarding students returning to the classroom and allowing faculty to make decisions about their classrooms. 

“We have been in constant communication with the university regarding what would be the best way to move forward. At least, in my personal experience, the university has been reasonable and flexible in allowing the faculty to make the choices that are better for ourselves,” said Rodríguez-Pereira. 

Birdsall said that while the Office of the Provost issued concrete guidance, it is not mandatory for faculty to follow. The message advised professors to not treat right now as normal and not to hand out major assignments and midterms.

"I cannot promise that all faculty are going to follow that," Birdsall said. "I hope that they do. So, it's really hard and this is nuanced and complicated at a place this size."  

Within his own classroom, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Professor Phillip Warsaw said he is giving options for students who want to attend class virtually or not at all. In addition to not having mandatory attendance, he pushed all assignments and deadlines for his classes back until Spring Break ends. 

The weeks leading up to Spring Break begins typically brings an influx of midterms and assignments for college students. But Warsaw decided against doing this.

“It was hard for me to see a scenario where students would be ready for that.” he said. 

Warsaw said a concern of his is to ensure students can only learn in an environment where they feel comfortable and puts an emphasis on maintaining flexibility with students. 

Warsaw said his first priority is ensuring that students feel comfortable and are able to engage in class.

"I think we've been given some flexibility in terms of how we addressed those terms," Warsaw said. "I think that's really where the emphasis has to be on: giving students as much flexibility as possible at the moment.” 

“We all have to just be mindful that we've all experienced trauma here, so my thoughts are, we got to listen to our students,” Birdsall said. 

When asked about plans for future pay negotiations with the university, Birdsall said in a text that there will be an official demand sent in the near future. 

“We have not sent an official demand yet, as we want to respect management’s need to grieve as well as our own. We will be doing so in the coming days," Birdsall said.

Birdsall said the union is asking for further communication from administration for faculty, as well as for students. 

"We're at this huge bureaucratic institution, right?" Birdsall said. "It's ginormous. Things move very, very slowly, on its best day. Although I absolutely, from the bottom of my heart, commend the way that the community, and the administration have responded to this, we do continue to see some issues with communication. Primarily at the college level." 

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