An open letter to Bristol Student Union

An Open Letter to Bristol Student Union

15.10.2020

Dear Bristol Student Union

Like many other staff in the university, I was shocked, saddened and depressed by the communication you recently issued. Here is why.

https://www.bristolsu.org.uk/coronavirus

  1. You are demanding more face to face teaching, in the current climate, during a pandemic, despite constant calls from the people who teach you, and the staff in the other services you use (such as the library) that teaching should now go online.
  2. Why do we want to go online? Is it because we are lazy, or shirkers, or can’t be bothered to go to the classroom? No. Most of us would much prefer to teach in the classroom if possible. Online teaching is far more work for us, and has driven some staff to the edge of breakdown through overwork. There are two main reasons why most of us would prefer to move entirely online for the moment. The first is ‘health and safety’ – are buildings really ‘covid secure’? Can we trust the ‘world-beating’ track and trace app to sort things out? Should staff be commuting on public transport to work at this time? Should students have been encouraged to move from right across the country to cramped halls of residence, and then moved from classroom to classroom, during a pandemic? Should we trust the risk assessments? I have a heart condition and have been graded ‘yellow’, but I am still ‘fit’ to teach f2f. And that is before we even get onto mental health. Many other universities have now gone online, and it looks like the government itself is planning to force universities to go online before Christmas in any case.
  3. The second main reason is pedagogic – educational. 198 students (at least) in my School are currently self-isolating. Turnout in classes for f2f has been very poor, whereas it has been very good in online classes. Students are losing out because of the current, and bankrupt, ‘blended’ system which you seem to support. Why should a lecturer take a risk (and everyone accepts there is somerisk, which vastly increases for certain types of people) to teach one person f2f while the rest of the class are stuck in their rooms, with no teaching at all?
  4. You are also demanding ‘more staff’ in libraries – which means more risk for them… and there are the cleaning staff, the porters the administrators, and yes, even the managers (!).
  5. We should be on the same side. Staff and students really are ‘in this together’? We want to teach you to the best of our ability, you want the best teaching possible. We want to stay safe, and for you and your families, and the people of Bristol, to stay safe, and for Bristol hospitals not to be overwhelmed. At the moment this can only be done through an online delivery. In the future, who knows?
  6. Finally, you mention compensation through student tuition fees. I hate the fees system. It has had a terrible effect on university education and the outlook of students and management. I just want to point out that in the current system, if fees start to be ‘paid back’, this will lead to staff cuts, and redundancies, unless there is a government bailout, which does not appear to be on the cards. Staff have already been laid off at the start of the pandemic, and sackings are happening right across the university sector. 

Yours, in solidarity, and in hope… John Foot.

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