Feingold explains decision not to cancel classes, faculty describe support received
Updated: Oct 3
Photo by Kegan Rascoe.
The decision to move classes online from September 9 to September 18 left many students confused and worried about the administration's response to safety concerns regarding the unhealthy air quality due to smoke from wildfires in Oregon and California. In an email sent out on September 9, President Stephen Thorsett announced that classes for the day had been moved online due to “deteriorating air quality” from the Beachie Creek fire. Classes stayed remote until September 18.
Almost immediately, students and the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) voiced their frustrations with the decision to not cancel classes entirely, and these frustrations did not go unheard. In a response email to ASWU, then Dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences Ruth Feingold stated that she did not “doubt the validity of the evidence you have presented regarding the desires of the constituents who have communicated with you,” but that, “students I have spoken to personally have told me that they themselves do not want classes cancelled, and that their friends don’t, either.”
In a follow-up email interview, Dean Feingold wrote, “it is exceedingly uncommon for universities, in general, to cancel classes… The default is always to have classes — it’s not a matter of starting out with either ‘on’ or ‘off’ as equally likely a possibility.” She would continue later on that, “individual faculty may choose to cancel their own classes,” Feingold said, “but having that decision made for them is kind of an abrogation of their rights.”
While the administration did not feel the need to cancel classes, they did advise the faculty to be “as flexible as possible” and to “take classes online quickly” according to Professor of Environmental Science Joe Bowersox. “We’re trying to be aware of the stresses, trying to understand the mental health of our students,” Bowersox said, “We thought the best thing was to just go online- most faculty desired that.”
Flexibility and adaptation was a major point that Dean Feingold conveyed to professors around campus, “by urging flexibility on the faculty, I’m hoping that the largest possible number of students gets the majority of what they want/need, including accommodations/extensions if they would find them helpful.”