DOBBS FERRY, NY – As Mercy College opens for the new school year today, faculty are gravely concerned about the safety of students and staff. Elected officials, including State Senator Brad Hoylman, have voiced their concerns to the Mercy administration.
We know that the Coronavirus pandemic is far from over. With schools reopening across the country, the dangers are becoming increasingly apparent. UNC Chapel Hill closed campus just days after students arrived; the University at Buffalo – SUNY now has dozens of positive cases and may be forced to move classes online; Syracuse University quarantined entire dormitories after positive COVID-19 tests results and has suspended students and contemplated a shutdown after a large gathering; SUNY Oneonta has hundreds of cases and has shut their campus down; and the list of outbreaks goes on.
Closer to home, and the epicenter of Coronavirus illness and death regionally (with tens of thousands of cases and over a thousand deaths in Westchester County alone), many local higher education institutions are taking a more careful approach. Iona College, Pace University, and Sarah Lawrence College have all adopted hybrid teaching. Unlike these colleges, Mercy College is primarily a commuter school, which makes it especially vulnerable as quarantining and containing an outbreak are impossible. For this reason, our most similar neighboring institution, Westchester Community College, is holding all classes online this fall.
Our request of the Mercy College administration was a simple one: allow adjunct faculty to teach remotely if they wish to. We know our students. We know our disciplines. We understand that in-person instruction is best for our students. But we also know that the pandemic has directly impacted many of our members, our students, and our coworkers. One Mercy adjunct professor has already died of Coronavirus. While in-person instruction is ideal for many, and preferred by most faculty, allowing more adjunct faculty to teach remotely is safest. The Mercy College administration needs to stop hiding behind our students’ preferences to avoid prioritizing the health and safety of the entire campus community.
Unfortunately, Mercy College administrators seem to have an unbending commitment to a risky plan which forces many faculty to be on campus and allows any student who isn’t currently symptomatic to come on to campus. These are extraordinary times which call for adult leadership from college faculty and administrators – leadership which puts the health and safety of students and staff first – by allowing faculty to make the choice to teach remotely.
At an institution which serves so many first-generation, commuter, and non-traditional students, Mercy adjunct faculty are committed to providing the best quality education possible to our students. As the people who teach a majority of classes, we know best what is possible, and what can work remotely, and when it may be better for our students to move a class completely online. The worst possible situation for our students is to start in one modality and switch to another. We did this last semester and we saw in real time how our students struggled.
Over 600 Mercy College adjunct faculty, who have no job security, often no health care, and earn about $3000 per course (some of the lowest adjunct wages in the area), formed their union with SEIU Local 200United in 2019. They are currently in negotiations with management for their first contract.