NUR Begins Spring 22 Semester Amid COVID-19 Surge; students, teachers react

Rachel Jackson/Nevada Mugwort
Todd Ruecker spoke about the Nevada Sagebrush of the Spring 22 semester on February 9. Ruecker has always spoken about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects at UNR.

Since the start of the Spring 2022 semester on January 18, student life at the University of Nevada, Reno has been nothing short of hectic due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students, faculty and staff quickly adapted to the constant policy changes at NUR and the recent increase in cases due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The university saw an increase in cases on the first day of classes, totaling 135 among students, faculty and staff. Since the start of the semester, the university has amassed more than 800 cases.

Many teachers have made the choice to postpone in-person classes for the first two weeks. All faculty must obtain approval from the Provost’s Office before rescheduling.

However, two students in a Core Humanities class – Ian Davis and Jude Alsasua – took six weeks of online instruction for a designated in-person class.

“I’m honestly fine with courses being pushed to asynchronous or online instructions,” Alsasua said. “I can fully understand that some classes need to be online to make safety a top priority.”

Alsasua, a second-year mechanical engineering student, has lost a loved one to the pandemic and feels content for the sake of his family and the safety of his loved ones.

“I’ve already lost one to this pandemic,” Alsasua said. “While it can be a little harder trying to learn, all I can do is try to adapt and do my best while protecting the ones I love.”

Alsasua said he wanted to get the education he paid for, but going to campus can sometimes feel risky.

“I’m always scared of getting infected in some way and potentially losing another family member or friend,” Alsasua said. “It sometimes feels like a gamble when I’m on campus.”

Davis, a freshman in mechanical engineering, also has a two-week English class postponed. He feels the situation differently from Alsasua and finds it difficult to flourish in his studies.

“I’m mostly a little frustrated,” Davis said. “When classes like mine are online, I usually use it for sleeping. Going to the conference makes me more responsible. As someone trying to improve their social life, it doesn’t really help when my class is online. »

With large projects, Davis has found there is limited instruction from the professor and he relies on the class’s GroupMe to help him rather than course resources.

“So for humanities, I really struggle with the class because I don’t really understand what the point is,” Davis said. “With our last projects, which were a bit confusing, there wasn’t much available. There was GroupMe, but that’s about it for asking students questions about what they’re doing.

Todd Ruecker, associate professor and head of the Core Writing program, has consistently expressed his issues with UNR’s COVID-19 policies. He attended a Associated Students of the University of Nevada Senate Meeting with regard to the open letter from the faculty, which he signed and published a Opinion editorial in the Nevada Independent of his concerns with the UNR.

Ruecker condemned the university for its lack of formal responses to campus community concerns.

“There were instances where we had a lot of people on board asking for something and no formal response, just kind of a breakdown and communication, you know, at some point it got really frustrating,” Ruecker said. “…There was no sense of dialogue, no spirit of compromise. And it’s sort of an approach or the highway.

Ruecker encouraged the university to allow some flexibility by offering in-person classes at the university. His recommendations came from data collected from his students, which showed that some preferred to be online. When instructors conducted surveys, the results were mixed. A third of students wanted online instruction, a third wanted in-person, and the rest had no preference.

“[Students] might have a child at home from daycare, they might have a vulnerable family member that they live with … just kind of a complete and wholesale dismissal of those concerns,” Ruecker said. “…For me personally, that was kind of a breaking point.”

He said at the start of this semester that his main goal was to make all instructors, especially graduate instructors, feel comfortable in the classroom.

“We were trying to find a way to have, you know, how to support [instructors] and make them feel a little more comfortable,” Ruecker said. “…Some people, you know, went online, during the first few weeks of the semester as this variation was peaking…we encourage them to communicate with their students and understand what their students wanted.”

As mentioned above, any approval for online instruction must go through the provost’s office, but Ruecker has seen some instructors logging on unofficially.

“The provost’s office has made it clear that approvals have to go through them,” Ruecker said. “My department chair and even the dean’s office don’t really have approval to move a class online, especially for longer durations, but even for shorter durations. A lot of teachers and instructors have, you know, ignored that advice. And it’s not just in our department.

The English department has since asked all instructors to return to class.

As a tenured professor, Ruecker feels he has a platform to speak out against UNR policies. However, he still had to think about it due to his criticism of the university.

“You have a mandate for a reason, so people feel like if it’s to defend a certain academic belief or criticize the administration, we have those protections,” Ruecker said. “We definitely made this calculation of what would happen if I lost my job.”

Ruecker is concerned about the cancellation of the mask mandate, stating that as a university, they are not ready for such a transition.

“I don’t think there are still a lot of students there,” Ruecker said. “I don’t think there are still a lot of instructors and professors. And so I’m just hoping for some consistency. I think if we can, you know, maintain that, I think we can kind of go on and have a relatively normal semester.

A woman in a black blazer, brown shirt and black mask sits in front of a large plant during an interview

Rachel Jackson/Nevada Mugwort
Amy Pason meets with The Nevada Sagebrush on February 10. Pason is chair of the faculty senate at NUR and has heard conflicting opinions from all members of the faculty senate.

Recently, Ruecker signed the petition to reinstate the mask mandate on campus. Amy Pason, chair of the Faculty Senate and associate professor of communication studies, also signed the petition and made a similar statement to Ruecker.

“I think we look at all the case numbers,” Pason said. “We were looking at previous advice on what kind of positivity rate we should have before we started thinking about removing masks and easing restrictions…and we’re just not there yet.”

As chair of the Faculty Senate, Pason must keep all faculty and constituent perspectives in mind to make informed decisions on campus.

“…We have tried to navigate representing all of our constituents to the best of our abilities and speaking our minds and whatever decisions are made,” Pason said of the current climate in the Faculty Senate. “…As a government representative on our campus, you know, we hear from a lot of constituents with a lot of different points of view.”

When it comes to students on campus and the climate on campus, Pason is witnessing a lot of accommodations due to in-person classes and the recent increase.

“I’m not teaching this semester, but I hear a lot of other professors saying, you know, there’s a great need for student accommodations,” Pason said of how professors are handling this. . “…I’m just trying to navigate, if they’re able to zoom into the room, which if you had to do that in a HyFlex room, we just don’t have the equipment that’s configured to that.”

Pason, as a faculty member, is experiencing “pandemic fatigue,” but is still striving to move forward and do her job. She also sees many other faculty members struggle with fatigue.“A lot of teachers are very tired and burnt out, and, you know, hearing about them, going through that as well, just trying to navigate it safely, continuing to do our job,” Pason said.

Emerson Drewes can be reached by email at edrewes@sagebrush.unr.edu or via Twitter @EmersonDrewes.