“I can’t imagine going into the classroom”: UK faculty on campus reopening

Prats, a lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences, is concerned about enforcement and compliance of social distancing guidelines like masks.

Emily Girard

At the beginning of May, UK announced that it planned to reopen for the Fall 2020 semester.

The reopening plans, released in mid-May for feedback, include adjustments to classroom spaces and course delivery.

But UK faculty have had mixed reactions to the announcements; while many see a need to reinstate face-to-face instruction, many are skeptical about UK’s decision to reopen while the COVID-19 pandemic is still unresolved.

Dr. Georgie Medina, a senior lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that a return to face-to-face instruction would better facilitate discussion and evaluation in his Spanish classes. However, his main concern is the safety of students and faculty.

“There’s so many unknowns with this virus that we don’t know…what the repercussions are if [we] open,” Medina said. “This is changing month to month and week to week.”

Since April, UK has been working with three teams of faculty, staff and students to develop plans to reopen the campus. One plan outlines a “normal” start to the semester, in which classes begin in late August. However, other plans include a delayed start to the semester, a fully online semester and a mix of in-person and online classes in case the virus resurges. UK plans to announce its official restart plan in June.

Despite UK’s planning, some faculty still worry about the safety of a reopened campus. Judith Gatton Prats, a senior lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she was concerned that people would not comply with campus efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Will everyone wear face coverings and wear them correctly? Lots of people are not doing that now,” Prats said. “Will people wash their hands sufficiently? Use hand sanitizer effectively? Who, if anyone, will enforce compliance if these measures are in place?”

Prats’ husband, Dr. Armando Prats, also works in the College of Arts and Sciences. Though he will not be teaching in the fall, he is still concerned about his students, saying it is difficult for them to accept the “new normal” brought on by the virus.

“I don’t think many students are…recognizing just how much things have changed,” he said.  “All those students who flocked to Florida during spring break were not simply reenacting the age-old ritual, they were in denial. […] The [UK] administration is going to perform a miracle of foresight not only in gauging the students’ expectations but in modifying them to their advantage.” 

John Clark, an associate professor in the College of Communication and Information, said he was”very uncomfortable” with UK’s plan to reopen. 

“I have to go back in the fall. I have a job that I need to keep. My reservations are [about] going to work in the classroom,” he said.

Clark is especially concerned for his own health, as he has a suppressed immune system for respiratory diseases. As a child he developed asthma and was in the hospital for several days with histoplasmosis, a fungal infection that produces little to no symptoms in most people.

“I get two to four colds every semester. I catch everything that comes along,” he said. “Given…what the projections look like for the summertime [and] the spread of the virus, I can’t imagine going into the classroom with the possibility of picking up this coronavirus that could very well kill me.”

Those wishing to learn more about how UK is dealing with COVID-19 can visit www.uky.edu/coronavirus

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that John Clark was in the hospital for eight weeks with histoplasmosis. In reality, he was hospitalized for several days and was out of school for eight weeks.