Opinions, Featured Column, Op-Ed

Opinion: As a Faculty Member, I’m Afraid to Return to the Classroom. BC Says I Don’t Have a Choice.

Editor’s Note: The Heights does not typically publish anonymous op-eds. This author was granted anonymity so that their perspective could be brought to Heights readers.

I am a faculty member, and I am afraid to return to the classroom for the coming semester.

I am afraid for myself, for my students, and for the broader community. Our understanding of COVID-19 changes by the day, but it is clear that death and serious long-term effects are not limited to those over 65 or with pre-existing conditions. It is also clear that indoor group activities—for example, classroom instruction—are high risk, that the realities of dorm life create a high-risk population, and that, even if we were willing to take on all that risk, by doing so we are endangering the larger communities we live in as well.

Despite these realities, Boston College is not allowing individual faculty to make their own decisions about this risk. Official policy, as cited in the reopening website, is that faculty “who are at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection, are pregnant, or claim mental health issues resulting from a return to work may engage the special Reasonable Accommodation process” in order to request to teach remotely. The administration has also moved all large lecture courses online. In all other instances, faculty are required to teach in-person.


Moreover, there is no pedagogical benefit, in my courses and many others, to socially distanced in-person instruction. The wide-ranging discussion and group activities that are at the heart of my teaching will be better served by synchronous online meetings in which we can see and hear each other clearly than by the masked and distanced parameters of the physical classroom.

With this knowledge, I do not see how I can, in good conscience, require my students to put themselves at risk. I do not understand how my employer can require me to put myself at risk. When it would be both safer and more effective to teach online, I am instead being asked to choose between my vocation and the safety of my students, my family, and myself.  

Teaching at Boston College is defined by cura personalis, the care of the whole person, and the pursuit of the greater good. Yet BC’s decision to reopen with extensive in-person teaching for the fall semester flies in the face of those values.

I urge each of you to call on Boston College to implement an opt-in/opt-out policy that would allow students and faculty alike to make choices about their own safety. By allowing this decision at the individual level, the college would not only uphold its own values, it would also achieve the pragmatic goal of de-densifying campus for those who need to be there in person.

Featured Graphic by Ally Mozeliak / Heights Editor

August 5, 2020