Since COVID-19 started, many professors have taught online and some still do. The University of Dallas has been committed to trying to offer a unique in-person experience for students while also accommodating the needs of its professors. As of now, due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the future of online classes is unknown.
President Jonathan Sanford said, “What I’m formulating is how to prioritize the good of human flourishing through in-person classes and how do we do that in a way that allows us not to be pausing it in the future.”
Online classes are not that new for UD, with a few having taken place before COVID-19 even hit. Dean of the Constantin College of Liberal Arts, Dr. Philip Harold said, “Online and hybrid classes have been offered extensively and successfully at UD, and in Constantin College online classes were developed and run prior to the Coronavirus pandemic in order to provide flexibility for students, for example as summer course offerings.”
This 2021-22 academic year has been for the most part fairly normal. There are still, however, a few classes that have remained online.
Since there is still a risk factor for certain employees, offering virtual classes has been a way to accommodate these individuals. Harold said, “Online classes have enabled us to balance our responsibility for the health and safety of our entire campus community and to offer reasonable accommodations for employees who are medically at-risk.”
One of the professors still online is Dr. Gilbert Garza, associate professor of psychology. Garza, like most professors, went online in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. He remains online due to a medical concern.
“I was granted an accommodation for the 2021-22 academic year,” said Garza. “As things stand now, my accommodation ends at the end of this semester.”
The process for acquiring accommodations has become more official than it was in 2020. Garza said: “In the fall of ‘21 [Constantin College] moved to a more formal process, meaning that people needed to make a formal request through HR, and then depending on the nature of their request for accommodation, provide documentation. In my instance it was a medical vulnerability, a pre-existing medical condition.”
The future of online classes is uncertain. Right now, the modus operandi is that if COVID-19 remains a threat, there will most likely be accommodations offered, according to Harold.
Garza is planning to return to in-person teaching next academic year. He said, “I’m planning to be on the ground with, in reserve, the idea that I could pivot to online if that proves to be necessary and is made available.”
The options for professors with medical concerns have been in person, masked classes or online classes. Garza prefers the latter, saying he used to say: “What would you rather have as a meeting with me: something like [Zoom] which, granted is deficient in the sense that we’re not in person, but you can see my face and I can see yours, or would we rather be outside separated by at least six feet, wearing a mask, and screaming at each other?”
There is something about in-person, unmasked classes that really can’t be replicated. “I’ve gone now more than two years without being in a classroom and I miss it, I genuinely miss it,” said Garza.
Online classes are expected to continue for summer courses, as this is easier for students residing outside of the Dallas area. Harold said, “We will also be able to use online classes to offer more courses this summer than otherwise.”
While next academic year’s future is uncertain, UD’s message is not. Harold said, “We remain, as President Sanford has emphasized, wholly committed to delivering a unique, in-person learning experience.”