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September 24, 2020

Temple's faculty union calls for classes to remain virtual in spring semester

Nearly 80% of its members want online-only instruction

Education Temple University
temple 2021 spring semester Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Temple University's faculty union says committing to remote learning in the spring semester would allow faculty, staff and students to plan accordingly. Above, a file photo taken prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Temple University's faculty union is demanding non-essential classes continue to be held virtually through May, claiming it would be irresponsible to revive in-person instruction during the spring semester.

Temple briefly brought students back for the fall semester before a COVID-19 outbreak prompted university officials to revert to online instruction earlier this month. 

The Temple Association of University Professionals, which represents academics, faculty and librarians, says nearly 80% of its members have voiced their preference for remote learning to continue until next summer. 

The union cited a recent forecast by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation that predicts COVID-19 deaths could rise to 415,000 by the end of the year. The United States surpassed 200,000 deaths earlier this week. The forecast also predicts coronavirus cases could double to 14 million by December. 

"It would be irresponsible for Temple to bring back their students to campus in January 2021 under these conditions," said Donald Wargo, a member of the union’s executive committee. "The students will be bringing the coronavirus back with them."

Committing to online instruction would allow faculty, staff and students to plan accordingly for the coming months, the union said. 

"As we consider the best path forward for the spring semester, Temple University will continue to focus on the academic experience, health and safety of our entire community: students, employees and neighbors," a Temple spokesperson said.

Union officials stressed that faculty members should not face penalties if they cannot work in person during the pandemic. They also want employees to be informed if someone in their workspace tests positive for COVID-19 and given the flexibility to shift their work online if they believe their workspace is unsafe. 

"We hope that Temple’s administration has learned from what went right and what went wrong with their reopening plan," union President Steve Newman said. "Let’s give our workers and students the assurance they need that classes and other work our members engage in will be online for the spring semester, and let’s treat our teachers, librarians and academic professionals like the professionals they are, giving them the information and discretion the need to make informed choices about where and how they will work."

Temple began its fall semester Aug. 24 with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction. After hundreds of students tested positive for COVID-19, the university paused in-person classes for two weeks as a precaution. But as the outbreak worsened, the school shifted to remote learning for the remainder of the semester.

Approximately 95% of Temple's classes are now being conducted online. Only classes that have been deemed essential are operating in-person. 

Residence halls have stayed open for students who either wanted or needed to stay on campus. Students who chose to leave the dorms by Sept. 13 received full refunds for their housing and meal plans. 

Employees have been instructed to continue working on campus until notified otherwise. Academic, support and health services are still available.

Temple's faculty union, along with Temple Student Government, has been calling for the university to stick to online classes since the beginning of the fall semester.

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