Faculty Members Fear Pandemic Will Weaken Their Ranks
APRIL 09, 2020
Covid-19 is being described as both a crisis and an opportunity for higher education. But how “opportunity” is defined depends on where one stands in the academic hierarchy. While some hope the pandemic provides a chance to reverse troubling trends toward the adjunctification and casualization of academic labor, administrators may see it as a different sort of opportunity, to realign institutional priorities or exert greater authority over their faculties.
A statement by the Tenure for the Common Good group offers 20 recommendations for administrators, including that they “resist using the current crisis as an opportunity to exploit contingency further by hiring more contingent faculty into precarious positions.”
As faculty members are asked to take on greater teaching, advising, and administrative responsibilities, faculty development and retention “will be more important to institutional resilience — survival — than ever before,” Kiernan Mathews, executive director and principal investigator of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, wrote on Twitter.
To DePaola, the pandemic doesn’t pose new problems to academe as much as it magnifies existing ones. “Everything was held together with gum and paper clips, and coronavirus came and just sort of knocked it all down at once,” DePaola said. “I think none of the crises that this virus is causing are new. They’re just accelerated greatly. And the contradictions of the system are heightened all at once for people to see.”
The Small World Network of College Classes: Implications for Epidemic Spread on a University Campus
Beginning in March 2020, many universities shifted to on-line instruction to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, and many now face the difficult decision of whether and how to resume in-person instruction. This article uses complete transcript data from a medium-sized residential American university to map the two-node network that connects students and classes through course enrollments. We show that the enrollment networks of the university and its liberal arts college are “small-world” networks, characterized by high clustering and short average path lengths. In both networks, at least 98% of students are in the main component, and most students can reach each other in two steps. Removing very large courses slightly elongates path lengths, but does not disconnect these networks or eliminate all alternative paths between students. Although students from different majors tend to be clustered together, gateway courses and distributional requirements create cross-major integration. We close by discussing the implications of course networks for understanding potential epidemic spread of infection on university campuses.