Future of FSU fall semester discussed at union meeting


Brooke Pelletier
A meeting was held between Fitchburg State University President Richard Lapidus, Provost Alberto Cardelle and the Massachusetts State College Association Union, or faculty and librarians union, as both a regularly scheduled monthly meeting and also to speak to the current uncertainty caused by the pandemic. 
Aruna Krishnamurthy, Ph.D., a professor at Fitchburg State University and also the union leader, spoke to The Point about this meeting more in detail.
“The meeting was organized by the MSCA (faculty and librarians union). Each semester the President and Provost attend union executive committee meetings twice, for an exchange of information and Q&A about a range of campus related topics. This April meeting was part of a regularly scheduled meeting, but given the current situation of college closure due to the pandemic, the meeting was held remotely through Google Meet. This was an open meeting (as all our meetings are on campus), and so I invited all faculty to be part of it. Given the current situation of uncertainty, with dire predictions about economic downturn and the possibility of the current situation continuing into the fall, many faculty joined the meeting to hear updates and plans from campus leaders. We had over 40 faculty attend the meeting remotely.”
Krishnamurthy explained that, in terms of the potential for the fall semester, they are keeping a close eye on things, and “like everyone else, we are watching the news to see whether the curve gets flattened and know more about the spread of the virus.”
Cardelle also spoke with The Point regarding the potential for the fall semester, and what the details are about the plans discussed in this meeting consisted of. He explained that “Our operating plan and what we are discussing with the Deans and the Chairs is to have an in person semester starting in September.  We have pushed back some of summer orientations to give us some time for planning, but the plans are to have them scheduled for late July, early August. We also still have face-to-face courses planned for the second half of the summer.  We will likely have to put in some initiatives to increase social distancing and limit potential exposure, but we expect that between these local initiatives, and the interventions and plans being put in place by the state health officials we will be able to have face to face classes in the fall.”
Some students have expressed concerns about having the fall semester continue online, or simply wonder about the quality of online classes in preparation for if online learning must continue. Cardelle expressed that “In terms of preparing for having to have remote teaching and learning in the fall, the plans being developed are limited to increasing training for faculty and students on how best to teach and learn remotely.  The reason for that is that when we return face to face in the fall it is likely that there may be increased likelihood that an individual student or faculty member or a group of individuals will have to move to remote teaching and learning because of a potential illness or exposure. We have both the technology and the personnel to offer these training sessions.”
However, despite the uncertainty, Cardelle is hopeful that our campus community will return to campus in the fall, expressing that “The future for the fall looks good, and we look to seeing all the students back on campus.”
Krishnamurthy also had some positive news to share, in that students will see some relief despite all the chaos. She explained that “the CARES act passed by Congress has some relief for students. There is a moratorium on student debt until September 1, and there is also some financial aid being offered. Hopefully, this comes as a relief to students.” In addition to financial aid from Congress, she also said that “The institution is also getting some much-needed funds, as we lost $3.6 million in dorm and dining refunds this semester.”
Like Cardelle, Krishnamurthy is “hopeful that students will return in the fall in full numbers! Teachers are doing their very best, under these circumstances, to continue their teaching and advising activities online or remotely. Many have had to adapt to new technologies overnight to serve the students, even as they (like everyone else) have to take care of their families at home. It has been a very busy, stressful but in the end, a rewarding experience, for faculty to fulfill their commitment to their students.”