As we witness the rapidly changing worldwide events around the COVID-19 virus many emotions can arise for all of us. Each person will face situations like this in their own way, but one thing that I hope helps in some small way is to create some space around and help alleviate any anxiety you may have about your job security, workplace safety, and the progress and best interests of our students. The Executive Council for the United Professors of Marin is working closely with the administration to assure not only safe working conditions for students, faculty and staff, but also to develop binding agreements for your protection. We also are in constant consultation with regards to best methods for being as innovative as possible to support faculty and student’s access to remote teaching and learning opportunities. Given that we are just now learning the campus will, until further notice, move to remote learning starting on March 23, it is imperative we keep all lines of communication open, and be flexible in our response to this crisis.
As educators we have chosen to serve our students in the best and worst of times. Currently we are faced with unique challenges as we are all being asked to step outside our comfort zone, and be inventive, inclusive, and imaginative as to how we can continue to serve our students to whom we have dedicated our professional lives.
Below is the text of the MOU we signed with the District. For the most part it is self-explanatory, but I would like to expand on item #4 below. If you have any other questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me right away.
Memorandum of Understanding
United Professors of Marin, AFT Local 1610 and Marin Community College District
March 13, 2020
With regard to Coronavirus (COVID-19) health and safety concerns, United Professors of Marin, AFT Local 1610 (“UPM”) and Marin Community College District (“District”) hereby agree as follows for probationary/permanent and part-time faculty members teaching credit/non-credit and for child care instructors:
1. When an employee is directed to be absent from their worksite by order of any federal, state or local agency including the District, the employees shall receive full pay and benefits for as long as the Federal, State or Local agency requires the quarantine.
2. No employee will be charged sick leave or docked pay if the school or worksite is closed for health and safety reasons.
3. If an employee elects to remain at home for reasons other than illness while the work site is open, the employee must use their own current leave balances as permitted under the CBA.
4. In the event of a workplace closure/partial closure, or the District moving instruction partially or fully online, employees will work remotely or on-campus as allowed.
5. If an employee is ill or under a verified quarantine and unable to work, the employee must use sick leave. If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 and exhausts their sick leave, the District will provide the employee with an additional ten (10) days of sick leave to use when they are off work due to COVID-19. This additional leave would be used before the employee enters differential leave status.
6. This MOU does not set a precedent for any purpose.
7. This MOU is valid through May 30, 2020. If the need for this MOU as it relates to COVID-19 extends beyond May 30, 2020, the parties will review and extend this agreement with or without revisions.
Item #4 may seem confusing so I wanted to clarify the language and in turn hopefully answer some questions that have been coming my way.
First, we must realize that closing the campus and cancelling face-to-face classes are two completely different scenarios. Closing the campus, as was done with the recent power outages and fires, means all campus services and personnel are no longer functioning and no one, with the exception of police and essential Maintenance & Operations staff, is on campus. This is not the situation we are facing in the immediate future.
Cancelling face-to-face classes means we are reducing in-person contact with multiple people, but much of the staff and facilities available to faculty, including our offices, classrooms, labs, etc. are still open and only students in classrooms and large group meetings are cancelled. The College (including the administration and all three unions) is constantly evaluating how best to provide services while maintaining a safe environment. If the situation in Marin County becomes so dire that we completely close the campus then no personnel, with the exception of police, will be on campus. This is what is meant by closure vs. partial closure in item #4.
The phrase “In the event of… the District moving instruction partially or fully online, employees will work remotely or on-campus as allowed” means the following:
For most face-to-face lecture courses we are being asked to provide our students with content so that their progress in our courses can continue. As instructors we all know what we plan to teach for the semester. Our course content is in our course outlines of record as well as our syllabi. We need to find ways to provide readings, problem sets, virtual/zoom lectures, video lectures, or whatever you can think of that will enable us to continue our courses.
For me (and this is not an exhaustive description of the options by any stretch) I have tried the following with a considerable amount of success.
1. Zoom recordings with whiteboard and Surface Pro/iPad. For those with the capability to write on their device this works really well. I start a Zoom meeting, “share” a OneNote white board, then hit record. I talk through a lesson as I write notes and problems on the white board. I have done this for about a year as a supplement to my lectures and the students seem to like it. When I end the meeting, I have the choice to save to the cloud or my device, and regardless of where it is saved, you can then create a link in your Canvas page that the students can access. This has proved really useful for presenting chemical concepts and especially working through problem sets with students. Also, if you tell the students ahead of time and send them a zoom link, they can be part of the discussion live.
Initially I found this challenging to figure out. However, in the coming week and potentially for the weeks after spring break, there will be staff available to help you navigate this option. Once you learn the system it really is quite easy. Feel free to contact your dean, VP Eldridge, or Assistant VP Torres and they can put you in touch with our saint/angel/guru Stacey Lince or one of our fine online instructors to set up a training session.
2. A second option for those who do not have a tablet is to use the computers in our classrooms or offices. Most classrooms and offices have computers with integrated cameras. You should be able to log into Zoom and either provide a live lecture, record a lecture, or both using the camera and microphone in the classroom. You can stand at the whiteboard or sit at your desk and teach to your students with the only difference being that they are sitting in their living rooms, coffee shop or on any bench on campus using our free wifi. Or they can watch it at a later time once you post it to your course Canvas Page.
3. Another option is to use Zoom and a document camera that many classrooms have.
If none of these options work, providing work in the form of readings, problems sets, essays, etc. can all be distributed via Canvas. For those who are not familiar with Canvas please contact your supervisor and they will set you up with or point you to training materials, much of which is online.
Item 4 above also states that the District may choose to move instruction partially or fully online. The “partially” part came up when we were discussing laboratory courses. If this COVID-19 situation goes on for a fairly long time, laboratory courses could be drastically affected, to the point where transfer agreements could be in jeopardy. When my students transfer to Davis, Berkeley, City College or other institutions, those departments expect them to have been exposed to certain agreed-upon laboratory skills.
To satisfy these requirements I plan on giving safety information, and demos and possibly raw data in online video format so that they can gain some of the conceptual skills. If possible I will have students come and do some minimum number of experiments to fulfill requirements so that they gain the hands on skills. I would try to work with students and their schedules to minimize large numbers in the lab at any one time. Of course, I would get approval from my supervisor before entering the lab with students if I wanted to go this route.
I completely understand that my situation as a chemistry instructor could in many ways, or completely, be different from your subjects and methods of teaching. I wrote the above piece just to highlight some of the options I am exploring in hopes that it may inspire imaginative ways for you to face this challenge of remote learning.
I know the above MOU as well as my thoughts and suggestions will not be to everyone’s liking. That comes with the job of being Union President. But I want to assure you all that no matter what you teach, how you teach, or what your professional or personal situation is, I, along with all your Executive Council members will do whatever we can to help you succeed in your mission and desire to be the very best instructor and mentor you can be to your students.
These are challenging times and we are faced with many unknowns. I in no way claim to have the answers to what we are facing. But I do know that we can and will face this together, and with our combined strength, kindness and wisdom we can stand up with determination to do what is right for our families, students and our greater college community.
If there is anything I can do for you in the coming weeks, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Be safe out there!