Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: A letter to Dean Bizup

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).

Sophia Poteet is a junior studying international relations at Boston University.

Dear Dean Joseph Bizup,

I am a proud student in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Pardee School of Global Studies, an active member of the Boston University community and a Dean’s List recipient for every semester I have been at BU. It is out of respect and concern for my beloved campus community that I am writing today to express my utter disappointment in the guidelines you recently sent to CAS faculty, as exposed in this recent Daily Free Press article.

Upon reading that article, I was shocked by the condescension, blatant prioritization of money over student experience and utter lack of respect for both students and faculty displayed within the memo.

I understand the desire to maintain a calm environment, allay fears and create a cohesive message. However, the language described in the Daily Free Press article goes beyond any of those aims. It displays an intense disrespect for the intelligence of both BU’s students and faculty, and clearly prioritizes publicity and public opinion over the actual learning experience of students.

The attempts to censor faculty and their communication with students is not only misguided and deceptive, but is also actively harmful to BU students and their ability to thrive in their education this semester.

This past Spring semester was chaotic for all: students were sent home, professors made adjustments as their classes switched to remote learning and we all adjusted to the new reality of a global pandemic. One of the few things that kept me going was the clear communication from my instructors.

My professors did not shy away from discussing the situation we were in, or “avoid any mention of obstacles that are a direct result of the ongoing pandemic,” as your guidelines instructed. Instead, they acknowledged the uncertainty, confusion and emotional and physical distress that COVID-19 caused — as well as the difficulties of attempting to learn remotely.

If my professors had solely focused on the “positive aspects of their courses and teaching methods,” as you advised in your memo, I do not know if I would have made it through the semester.

It was my professors’ empathy toward my changed situation, honesty about how they too were affected by the chaos and frankness about uncertainties from the sudden transition that enabled me to succeed in my assignments.

All formats of learning pose different challenges for both professors and students. Virtual classes can take a mental and physical toll. In-person classes with masks and social distancing (all very necessary precautions that I fully support) will most likely be emotionally taxing and socially difficult.

They will also create a whole new host of challenges, including properly hearing the professor or viewing slides and visuals. Those obstacles will likely become obvious as the semester commences.

If you cannot accept those realities, then you have no business working in higher education.

As a student employee for Orientation this summer, I heard the interim Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs, Sue Kennedy, repeat to every group of incoming students that they had been admitted to BU because they were good at answering hard questions. But at BU, they should expect to learn how to ask hard questions as well.

BU’s promotional material champions the intelligence and spirit of inquiry that exist within its student body. Neither of those values could be found anywhere in your communication guidelines. It was clear from that memo that you would rather students not ask any hard questions, or any questions at all, about the very classes they are taking.

I also cannot emphasize enough how terrible this advice is, in addition to being inappropriate. When you wrote “it is better to be vague than to emphasize uncertainties to be resolved,” you demonstrated that you have little understanding of students’ decision-making processes, or their reasons for asking questions in the first place.

In every letter BU has released so far during the pandemic, it was not the acknowledgments of uncertainty but rather the vague statements that were ripped to shreds in student discussions, mocked on social media and the catalysts for reams of disinformation and speculation.

My job during Orientation was to explain BU’s policies and plans for the upcoming year to incoming students, and provide answers to their questions. I have seen firsthand how damaging and frustrating these vague statements are to those attempting to plan their lives amid confusion. I have also seen how important it is for students to understand exactly why policies were put in place and why it is important that they follow them.

Vague statements do not reassure students. They confuse, obfuscate and lessen students’ trust in the administration. Personally, this memo has dramatically reduced my level of trust in the BU administration and the information it puts out.

I was also alarmed by the apparent attempt to prevent professors from discussing their personal situations or reasons for creating a specific class format, as you instructed faculty to “frame your explanations in terms of how your courses’ formats contribute to their efficacy rather than in terms of the personal factors that may have influenced their design.”

I understand that many faculty have expressed private and public objections to the Learn from Anywhere model and the (nonexistent) level of faculty inclusion in that decision making process.

This memo seems to make clear that you would like to prevent students from becoming fully aware of the level to which professors objected, perhaps so that students do not realize that the LfA model was crafted out of financial concerns rather than the desire to create the best educational experience possible.

I was attempting to give BU the benefit of the doubt in this respect up until this point, knowing personally the difficulties of learning online, but this memo has made me rethink that decision and, once again, thoroughly shaken any trust I previously had in the administration.

I know that many other BU students feel similarly after reading the Daily Free Press article.

I also worry that the restrictive views expressed in this memo will cause many non-tenured faculty to limit their communication with students out of fear of retaliation from the administration. In a time when so much is shifting daily and there are so many sources of misinformation, limiting communication between faculty and students is precisely the opposite of what should happen. That would only serve to reinforce the prevalent narrative that BU does not have clear plans for this semester.

Attempting to censor the faculty at BU will be detrimental to students, faculty and the entire BU community. I do not know if there is any way to undo the harm you have caused with this memo, but I urge you to attempt to do so, and I ask the rest of the BU administration to make clear whether or not they actually respect the intelligence of their students by publicly retracting these guidelines.

I hope that in future communications, you and the rest of the University will display a deeper level of thoughtfulness and respect toward both faculty and students.

Sophia Poteet

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