Medical conditions ‘considered’ in professors’ exemption from in-person instruction


Joslyn Buckley - Reporter

An empty outdoor classroom at California Lutheran University. Professors and staff are expected to return to support in-person learning during the 2021 spring semester.

Joslyn Buckley, Reporter

The plan to reopen campus for California Lutheran University’s 2021 spring semester includes requiring professors to teach in-person.

“We know this is who we are at Cal Lutheran. Cal Lutheran is not–our traditional undergraduate program is not–an online program and we want to get back as soon as we can,” said Leanne Neilson, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, in a Zoom interview.

Graduate and Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals programs will remain mostly virtual while traditional undergraduate programs return to a mostly in-person format, Neilson said.

In an email interview, Julia Fogg, Faculty Senate executive officer and professor of Religion, said the decision to bring faculty and staff back to campus was in the hands of the university president “in consultation with the cabinet and following [Ventura] County pandemic restrictions.”

The conversation about balancing the student experience with safety has been ongoing, said Aaron Heresco, executive officer of the Faculty Senate, chair of the Committee on Committees and associate professor of the Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals program, in a Zoom interview.

Over the last week, Ventura County has averaged 56 new COVID-19 cases per day. According to the Los Angeles Times, the case load in the county is currently doubling every 182.9 days.

President Varlotta’s Oct. 19 letter to faculty regarding the Fall 2020 Board of Regents meeting acknowledged faculty members’ concerns about the transition to in-person instruction.

“The [Faulty Senate Executive Committee] has made it clear, in a compelling but highly respectful way, that a number of you want to weigh in on how you deliver your courses this spring. The provost and I have heard their request,” the letter states. “Accordingly, Provost Neilson will send out a letter… that gives department chairs and program directors more latitude (than the split section approach) to propose to their dean and the provost how they could meet the goal of providing [face-to-face] instruction this spring.”

Neilson said this “latitude” includes an online form that faculty can use to request alternate teaching modality options for next semester. 

In addition, Neilson said professors have the option to adjust their course load if they don’t feel comfortable returning to campus, however, this would result in a pay cut.

According to an Oct. 30 email to faculty and staff from Human Resources, “staff members who believe they cannot return to campus because of health concerns are asked to discuss the issues with their medical provider and provide us with a physician’s certification that they have a medical condition that restricts them from leaving their home to go to work on campus. The documentation will be reviewed, and accommodations will be considered.”

Despite faculty and staff returning to campus, Cal Lutheran’s Fredrickson Family Early Childhood Center remains closed.

According to the 2020-2021 Faculty Handbook, the university “provides quality preschool and childcare for dependent children of faculty, administration and staff. Priority placement in the program and employee discounts is provided.”

Neilson said childcare is a major concern and Cal Lutheran is hoping three months is enough time for faculty and staff with kids to make arrangements. She said she is also hoping that K-12 schools will continue to open in January so children can go back to school.

“We are looking at getting resources together. We’ve got a couple people on campus who are working together to provide resources, both faculty and staff on what’s available out there so people can share with each other,” Neilson said.

While the university transitions to in-person instruction, some students may remain in a fully remote learning format.

“Many of us are anxious about planning our classes for spring in such a way that we can teach our virtually engaged students at the same time as our physically present students with the same excellence and learning outcomes for both,” Fogg said.

Colleen Windham-Hughes, faculty regent and associate professor of Religion at Cal Lutheran said faculty are expecting the hybrid format to triple or quadruple their prep time per class.

“Previously there was a rule or a mandate that the spring was going to happen a certain way and then these decisions, like that decision how courses will be taught, were really pushed down to maybe department or dean level so that faculty have a say in how best to deliver their content,” Heresco said.

The way classes are taught will depend on the class and subject matter and will most likely be decided in conversation with deans, Windham-Hughes said.

“I have a lot of compassion for people and their anxieties and I think that nobody knows the right thing to do because none of us have lived through a pandemic before,” Windham-Hughes said. “I also think that it would be really great if we could keep focused on our campus community as a community and realize that we are interdependent with one another.”

Editor in Chief Isabella Breda also contributed to this reporting.