INSIDE OUR SCHOOLS
The new academic year at Pasadena City College has arrived, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride. Because college administrators may cancel classes at their discretion, in particular newly-established remote classes, students and faculty are not out of the woods yet.
By Melissa Michelson
Face to face classes reinstated, but at half-capacity
Since mid-June when the COVID19 vaccines were rolling out, the college administration reinstated face-to-face courses for the upcoming fall semester at full capacity per class.
A June 11 letter from Eloy Oritz Oakley, chancellor of California Community Colleges, gave the go-ahead; all colleges “will be authorized to be back in session full time, in-person instruction,” and “no physical distancing will be required between students.” On June 14, PCC president Dr. Erica Endrijonas notified the college that “beginning Tuesday, July 6th; 76% of our Fall schedule will be synchronous and face-to-face…; we will have the return of all athletic competitions in 2021-2022.”
Several weeks later, because of the dangers of the COVID-19 Delta variant, student capacity for PCC in-person courses was reduced to 50% capacity to allow for social distancing.
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between union and administration
On August 3, the faculty union leadership and administration signed a MOU “Fall Semester 2021 Return to Campus Agreement”, which formalized the 50% classroom enrollment cap and allowed faculty who get paid for office hours to schedule them remotely. It also outlined a vaccine mandate for faculty and students, a weekly COVID testing mandate for faculty, indoor masking mandates, college-wide sanitizing measures and PPE available to faculty. The MOU also stipulated that instead of work remotely off -campus, that “[academic] counselors shall work 4 days a week on site,” and only 50% of that time could be remote.
To compare, Santa Monica College is offering around 85% classes online this semester, and academic counselors can work 100% remotely.
PCC faculty up in arms
On August 17, because of campus grumblings about the MOU, the faculty union called an emergency virtual meeting, attended by over two hundred faculty.
Faculty didn’t want Form D, an internal college form, to be putting them and their students in harm’s way.
They also complained about not being able to effectively interact with the students in a socially-distant classroom or offer an engaging experience without students interacting with each other during class. Union leaders said they had brought up those concerns with the administration while negotiating the MOU, but the district repeatedly cited lack of Form Ds as the rationale for retaining face to face classes.
A “Petition to PCC Board of Trustees For A Safe Working Environment” was then drafted and sent around for signatures, citing:
- faculty had been teaching online since April 2020 at the height of the pandemic,
- the PCC Board of Trustees themselves are not face to face but still on Zoom,
- administrators have plastic protectors in their offices
- professors, librarians and counselors are on the front-line with the public,
- unanswered safety protocols, like how student masking indoors would be enforced at PCC.
The faculty demanded that temporary Form Ds be reinstated to allow faculty to teach their classes online if they want to, and that all counselors and librarians be given the opportunity to work remotely.
In addition, faculty were encouraged to speak at the August 18 PCC board meeting, and an August 20 protest on campus was scheduled, three days before classes would begin.
Change in teaching modality
Less than twenty-four hours after the meeting, the union announced that the District agreed to “give faculty a choice whether to remain face-to-face or transition to online” and called off the letters and protest.
However, with the choice came a warning from the administration: newly remote classes will be opened at 100% capacity but may be cancelled if they aren’t 60% full.
With most of PCC courses under-enrolled, faculty are being forced to choose between health, safety, or their jobs. The current number of enrolled students and course caps can be seen on the Schedule of Classes. It remains to be seen how many under-enrolled courses will be cancelled after Monday’s start date.
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