Opinion | Lecturers should not be allowed to unilaterally decide whether their presence on campus is necessary

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By Fiorenza Dell'Anna, Opinion Editor

As we braced ourselves and prepared to face a second lockdown, the University guaranteed that blended learning would continue. Yet, from the very start, these two words have eluded students.

Upon returning to Bristol, many found that they had no or next-to-no face to face teaching at all. Had it all been a dream? Unfortunately, the one group who did very quickly cotton on to what it meant happened to be the UCU, and since before term began they have been trying to put a stop to it.

So it began: a series of motions and emergency meetings in which the members claimed that they themselves, should be allowed to decide whether their presence on campus was necessary or not, and that they ‘do not feel safe’ being around students in a classroom.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in no way undermining the gravity of the virus and I am entirely sympathetic of the many staff members and students that are vulnerable and need to shield.

However, we cannot forget that we were made a promise by the University, that some staff members are now taking into their own hands to unnecessarily break. I say unnecessarily due to the fact that this virus was neither born nor exists exclusively on University campuses and it is high time we stopped acting as though it did.

I empathise with a lot of the concerns felt by staff and students, but I struggle to believe that any of the staff members (who do not need to shield) claiming they don’t feel safe around young people could in good conscience say that they have not been for a coffee, a meal or even to a supermarket since lockdown was lifted, where they were not served by a young person of some description.

This virus was neither born nor exists exclusively on University campuses

The point I am making is that unless lecturers are barricaded in their homes, they are no more at risk on campus than if they go anywhere else.

It is because of this that I simply do not buy this narrative. For one needn’t look far (think of the endless weeks of strikes last year) to see that some union members clasp any opportunity to avoid doing their jobs with the determination and resilience of a bulldog with lockjaw.

Another problematic component of these meetings and motions is the seemingly acceptable rhetoric that is being used - how is it that it is now permissible to essentially brand students as spreaders and carriers?

There is time yet for the UCU to make the ultimate threat: strikes

Somewhere along the line, we started to believe that it was perfectly legitimate to be referred to as though we were the unfortunate inhabitants of some sort of leper colony - we even have to wear visors in class, as well as masks, like a humiliated pet leaving the vet in a cone.

We socially distance, sanitise, and yes, we wear the foggy visors which in the most unfortunate cases, drip with a sort of grimy condensation. Yet it is all somehow worthwhile. All we want is what we were promised for a substantial sum of money: the chance to be able to see our lecturers in person if possible.

Students to get minimum of two to three hours of in-person teaching a week next term, says University
University of Bristol rejects UCU demand to end ‘unnecessary’ in-person teaching

Despite the lockdown, a spokesperson for the University has recently claimed that ‘no changes to the measures currently in place are required from a health perspective’. So there is time yet for the UCU to make the ultimate threat: strikes. I wait with bated breath…

The spokesperson added that when deciding what happens next, they will take into account ‘local institutional risk assessment and wider staff and student feedback’ amongst other things.

If this counts as feedback, I think students are immensely grateful to all of the staff members who have enthusiastically come back to campus since term started. I, for one, would not trade in-person teaching for the world as nothing quite compares to it - even whilst struggling to breathe through a mask, under a steamy visor.

Featured Image: Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh


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