Marquette Instructors Voice Opposition To Campus Reopening As Fall Semester Begins

Aug 27, 2020

Class is back in session at Marquette University — the largest private university in Wisconsin.

About 60% of Marquette’s classes are in-person, with the rest online or hybrid. Dorms and classrooms are at reduced capacity, and masks are required to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But instructors say they’re worried about the potential consequences of Marquette’s reopening, as they watch what’s happening at other schools that opened up in recent weeks.

The University of Notre Dame shut down after more than 100 students contracted COVID-19. University of North Carolina told students to leave dorms after outbreaks there. 

A sign on Marquette's campus encourages students to follow measures.
Credit Emily Files / WUWM

Ericka Tucker thinks it’s inevitable Marquette will follow in their tracks.

“Unfortunately I’m expecting for people to get sick, for there to be outbreaks,” says Tucker, a tenured professor in Marquette’s philosophy department. “For the administration to blame it on the students and on student parties. And I expect us to go fully online within the next three weeks.”

Tucker is teaching one class this semester — and it will be online. She requested to teach remotely for health reasons.

“I am one of the lucky ones,” Tucker says.

Tucker and other instructors interviewed by WUWM say tenured professors had an easier time getting permission to work remotely. But teachers with less power, including adjuncts and graduate student teaching assistants, are more likely to be in classrooms with students.

Tucker says she originally was supposed to teach intro to philosophy — an in-person class. But she got out of it.

“I have a little bit of survivor’s guilt about this,” Tucker says. “Because I took my course release in the fall instead of the spring, so now someone who does not have as much power at the university is being required to teach [that class] in person.”

Someone like Melady Elifritz. She’s a grad student in the philosophy department, and she is teaching two intro to philosophy classes in person. Elifritz would prefer to teach online, because she doesn’t want to expose her dad —who has stage 4 cancer — to the coronavirus.

The Marquette Academic Workers Union held a die-in protest on the first of day of the fall semester. Among other demands, they want Marquette to allow instructors to decide whether they teach in-person or online.
Credit Emily Files / WUWM

“I’m in a really precarious situation where if I want to see my father in the last few months of his life, I’m potentially putting him and other people at greater risk,” Elifritz says. “So I’m afraid every day that I come here.”

Elifritz and other Marquette employees expressed their frustration at a rally Wednesday on campus. They set up cardboard gravestones that said things like “RIP Uninsured Grad Student” and “Killed For Profit.”

The rally was organized by the Marquette Academic Workers Union, which advocates for non-tenured instructors and has been fighting for recognition as a union from university leaders.

Some of the employees want Marquette to go entirely online for everyone’s safety. Others are just asking for Marquette to allow professors who want to teach online to do so. They say some requests to work remotely have been denied.

Chris Gooding has mixed feelings. He’s a visiting assistant professor in the theology department, teaching four classes in person.

“I would absolutely love to keep in-person teaching going if it were feasible,” Gooding says. “I hate online teaching and my students have reported back that they hate it as well.”

But Gooding doesn’t think Marquette’s safety plan is strong enough to proceed with in-person teaching. He doesn’t like that on-campus testing is restricted mainly to students with COVID-19 symptoms, and that it’s unclear whether instructors will be told if there’s a positive case in one of their classes.

Marquette administration did not agree to an interview for this story. A spokesperson did not answer most of the questions that WUWM sent, but says the university will monitor whether it needs to scale back in-person classes based on a number of criteria including the percent of positive coronavirus tests.

Marquette is publicly tracking cases on campus, and so far has seen five cases this week.

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