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UF Students, Faculty And Staff Express Mixed Reactions As Coronavirus Threatens Probability Of In-Person Classes

Students on campus at the University of Florida walking through Turlington Plaza as they wait to hear if the University will completely transition to online classes in the wake of the coronavirus. (Photos by Cayela Cuevas/WUFT News)
Students on campus at the University of Florida walking through Turlington Plaza as they wait to hear if the University will completely transition to online classes in the wake of the coronavirus. (Photos by Cayela Cuevas/WUFT News)

As University of Florida students, faculty and staff returned to campus this week ready to wrap up their spring semesters, the probability that in-person classes will take place up until May graduation remains up in the air, as fears of the coronavirus spread across the nation.

On Monday, UF Provost Joe Glover sent an email to academic deans across the university, urging them to encourage their professors to think about transitioning their live lectures and labs to an online version. According to the email, the transition is currently voluntary however, there is a “strong probability” that classes will be online by the end of the Spring semester. The email suggests that asynchronous courses can be taught with or without recorded lectures, while synchronous courses can be taught through the Zoom conferencing platform during regularly scheduled class periods.

UF’s cautious decision follows the footsteps of other universities across the nation such as Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Stanford, which have canceled in-person classes due to COVID-19. As of right now, UF is the third school among its peers on in the list of U.S. News & World Report's top 10 public universities that have taken action, following the University of California, Berkeley and University of California San Diego.

The university’s guidance received mixed reviews the day after Glover's email from students, professors and staff, who are wondering when and if the transition will be mandatory.

Sarah Bogart, 21, is impressed by the cautious approach to encourage online classes. “When it comes to hurricanes the university usually takes a more relaxed approach,” Bogart said. “It’s refreshing to see that even though no cases have been officially confirmed yet in Gainesville, UF is thinking about how it will affect us.”

As a former Pathway to Campus Enrollment (or PaCE) student, Bogart is no stranger to online classes. She’s excited about the possibility of having a more flexible schedule but is worried about how she will be able to get her assignments done if she’s not physically attending classes.

Christina Mills, a full-time sophomore studying health education and behavior has already been unexpectedly impacted by UF’s recent nudge to move to online classes.

Mills, 20, was set to take a theoretical exam for her microbiology class on Monday after spring break when she received the email about a potential change in format. Because of UF’s email, her professor changed the format of the lecture from in-person to online.

“The online exam was much longer than I expected,” Mills said. “It took me around 5 hours to complete when it would have typically taken only 3 in person.”

The inconvenience factor may be applicable to more than one area of study, ranging from microbiology to geology and even dance.

John Martin, a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences is currently teaching a graduate-level class called surface and groundwater interaction.

“I really hope the transition doesn’t become mandatory,” Martin said. “It would make my class impossible to do because we have live discussions where we compare research.

“I know people will say that discussion and comparison would be easy to accomplish on Zoom or something like that, but the class would have a completely different dynamic than it does now,” Martin said.

Students and professors in the performing arts like theatre, music and dance are unsure what the future looks like for them if the university mandates online classes.

Emily Pozek, an adjunct professor within the School of Theatre and Dance who is teaching a dance fundamentals class, understands the university’s concerns but is apprehensive to transitioning her class from in-person to online.

“Putting dance specifically onto an online platform isn’t impossible but it will be extremely difficult to accommodate in a short period of time while maintaining the integrity of the class,” Pozek said.

One of her students, Tara Jaygopal, is an international student studying economics. Though she is concerned about the potential risks of COVID-19, she admits that she wouldn’t have a reason to leave her apartment anymore if her classes were completely online.

“I would probably try to get a job so I could get out of the apartment,” Jaygopal said.

The 20-year-old’s family lives in Qatar and heard of UF’s decision to encourage the transition to online classes.

“My family overseas is supportive of the approach UF is taking,” she said. “I prefer in-person classes because it’s harder for me to prioritize my time online, but I understand the benefit of online classes until the virus has been contained.”

UF Online student and bookstore employee Vilaine Paul would still need to travel to and from campus for her job, even though her classes are already 100% virtual.

“I feel like everyone is blowing the COVID-19 outbreak out of proportion,” Paul said. “Even doctors are saying that everyone needs to calm down.”

August Funston, her co-worker, is a music major enrolled in seven in-person classes this semester who worries about how he’s going to participate in classes like piano and symphonic orchestra via Zoom chat.

“I know that one of my classes has already been switched to online, but I can’t imagine what it would be like if they were all online,” Funston said.

Kristina Steslicki, a senior finance student, is concerned about how her studying could be impacted by a shift to online classes. She typically studies on campus in libraries and feels that most surfaces in classrooms and common spaces on campus “don’t get properly sanitized because of sheer volume,” she said. Now that the university is thinking of transitioning to online, she would be consider staying home entirely instead of coming to campus to study in a library.

“It’s kind of creepy to think about the fact that everyone just came back from spring break,” Steslicki said. “Everyone has germs from their vacation and they’re all going to be in one place at the same time.”

Cayela is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.