Faculty share thoughts on SPU’s decision to hold 90% of classes in person this fall

Talia Parlane, Staff Writer

Desks are marked to indicate if they are available for use. (Sydney Lorton)

As statewide COVID-19 guidelines continue to change, schools and universities across Washington have been working to adjust their class formats. With the new academic year approaching, the question of whether SPU will hold in person classes this fall has been a prominent topic of discussion.

Dr. Cindy Price, Associate Professor of Sociology and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at SPU, spoke on behalf of COVID-19 decision group, stating that the University plans to resume face to face education in the fall.

“Currently, 90% of the undergraduate courses for the fall will be delivered in the face to face modality, with the remaining 10 percent being remote or hybrid,” she explained.

Dr. Price said that new instructions for maintaining statewide and countywide public health protocols may not be given until sometime during the summer, meaning the school’s plans could also change.

“It is our hope that we can be as open as possible come fall, but we have also learned in the past year that it can be difficult to predict the future as things can change quickly,” said Price.

Several faculty members responded to questions regarding their thoughts on SPU’s current plan to maintain a mostly in person class format in the fall.

Co-Chair of the Sociology Department and Professor of Sociology, Dr. Kevin Neuhouser, emphasized the importance of being in groups of people who are known and trusted in order to try out ideas, opinions, and solutions, as well as being open to hearing them critiqued and debated.

“If education was merely “information dumps” into student brains, then social relations wouldn’t be needed,” said Neuhouser. “Education, though, is primarily learning skills for what to do with information – how to collect, analyze, and evaluate that information, but most importantly how to apply that information in new situations to solve problems.”

Dr. Neuhouser explained that this is most effective when done face-to-face, as it “requires commitment to contribute to the common good of others in the class in order to benefit personally.”

“This commitment, in my experience, is harder to develop to strangers in little blank Zoom boxes because the video has been turned off,” he continued. “I believe that what SPU does best is bring professors together with students in classes small enough that those relationships can develop, not just in one class, but in multiple classes across the years a student is at SPU.”

This school year, Dr. Neuhouser has held all but one of his classes in person.

Dr. William Purcell, Professor of Communication and Chair of Communication and Journalism, also supports the plan to have mostly in person classes in the fall; although, he expressed a desire for students to be vaccinated in order to participate in live classes.

“I prefer live classes, but do not want to teach “live” if there is still a health threat,” said Purcell.

Dr. Purcell has taught all of his classes online since spring of 2020, when COVID-19 lockdowns first began.

“As a person in the 65 plus category I did not want to teach live again until I was vaccinated,” he said. “Now, I am looking forward to teaching in person again. That said, for the safety of faculty, students, and staff, I feel that all persons that come on campus next fall must be vaccinated.”

Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Joshua Tom expressed excitement at having SPU transition back towards its traditional mode of education.

“With the vaccines becoming widely available, and the next academic year being nearly half a year away, a mostly-normal Fall seems very reasonable,” he explained. “Maintaining some flexibility with online and hybrid options is also wise.”

Dr. Tom has carried a mix of different class formats since the start of the pandemic, with most of his courses being entirely online and about a third being mixed or fully in person.

“It’s been a nice mix of modalities to keep my spirits up,” he said.

Finally, Dr. Tom shared some thoughts on SPU’s identity as an institution and community.

“SPU is having a lot of conversations about institutional identity right now- what kind of community are we, what defines us, etc.,” said Tom. “Our commitment to in-person classes coming out of the pandemic is very much of a piece with these issues. I expect we’ll maintain some online and hybrid options for particular circumstances, but I would love for us to come out of this with the firm conviction that SPU’s mission is rooted in the ‘how’ of education as much as the ‘why’ or ‘what’.”