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Guest Opinion | Shannon Maraghy: PCC Students and Faculty Upset at Forced Return to Campus

Published on Monday, February 7, 2022 | 6:44 am

Many faculty and students at Pasadena City College are very upset at being forced to return to in-person classes earlier than other local colleges and while Omicron was still surging, almost two weeks ago.

On January 24, the day our campus reopened, the New York Times stated that “California reported a 47 percent increase in daily average cases over the past two weeks, and a 61 percent increase in hospitalizations.” Although by now the case rate has peaked, the death rate hasn’t. There are currently 67 deaths weekly in LA County, and that number is still climbing. On January 19, KTLA reported that hospital ICUs were “at or near capacity across SoCal.” With ICUs overrun and the effects of long COVID still unknown, why rush to open a college of 17,000 enrolled students and risk creating a super-spreader campus? Especially since faculty have been trained in delivering effective online education.

And especially when students and faculty don’t feel safe. A student petition to stay remote (at has over 2500 signatures. During the second week of the semester, 80% of faculty members polled voted to “remain online until COVID-19 cases return to a normal level.” Masked and distanced faculty and students protested with signs in the Free Speech Zone on Colorado Boulevard on January 21 and again on January 28. But our pleas for caution have fallen on deaf ears. As Special Assistant to the President Alex Boekelheide said in an email to Pasadena Now, “The timing of the return to campus is not open for negotiation.”

On-campus COVID testing and N95 mask distribution, two measures that the District promised would protect us during the return to campus, were completely mismanaged. N95s were not distributed to students during the first few days of reopening, so many students wore cloth masks and had little protection against the very contagious omicron variant. The weekend before January 24 and all that week of reopening, lines for testing were two to four hours long, with many students missing classes and faculty having to cancel classes. Additionally, many didn’t receive their test results until hours later or the following day, despite being told that testing would only take fifteen minutes and results would be emailed to them right after.

We are a college that talks a lot about equity, but a one-size-fits-all policy of forcing people to return to campus is ableist and far from inclusive. For students/faculty who are immunocompromised or have vulnerable family members, coming to campus is literally a matter of life and death. In addition, we are a minority-serving institution (with 48% Latino and 4% Black students), even though the PCC executive team and Board of Trustees are majority white and aren’t representative of the students they are supposed to serve. The data show that Black and Latino communities are the least likely to have received the privilege of vaccines and are the hardest hit by COVID. Although our students themselves are vaccinated, their family members may not have access to vaccines or be able to take time off to get vaccinated or recover from getting vaccinated. The LA Times reported on February 2, “Only about 52% of Black and Latino people in Los Angeles County are fully vaccinated, compared to 70% of white people.”

Finally, the pandemic should elicit empathy and flexibility on the part of the administration. But instead of offering students/faculty a choice of whether to continue online or return to campus, they have forced us to return–whether it’s safe or not, whether we live with vulnerable people or not, and whether in-person teaching with masks/distancing is effective or not for a given discipline. (Some classes, English as a Second Language in particular, work much better on Zoom with everyone unmasked, so students can see the teacher’s mouth and imitate the shape to produce the correct sound.) In addition, punitive actions are being threatened against faculty who, in the interests of safety and serving students, continue to offer classes remotely instead of returning to campus as ordered. I am one such teacher. Since all my Advanced Pronunciation students responded to my anonymous survey that they didn’t want to return to campus, and since the teachers’ union made me aware of the OSHA protection entitled Workers’ Right to Refuse Dangerous Work, in which an employer isn’t legally allowed to retaliate against an employee for refusing to perform dangerous work, I have acted my conscience and continued to give my class online. In response, the District has stated that faculty who haven’t returned to campus will be suspended for fifteen days without pay. I just want to serve my students safely and effectively, but instead I’ve lost sleep and peace of mind over the stress of dealing with this situation and a hostile employer.

We faculty and students want to be treated like the stakeholders that we are. We want to be listened to and have a seat at the table when decisions are being made that affect our lives, our health, and the educational process. We don’t feel heard, valued, or respected. We have asked the question, “Why was the decision made for PCC to reopen its campus before other local colleges deemed it wise to do so, while omicron was still surging?” The decision wasn’t data-driven, and it didn’t take into account the desires of students or faculty. Why, then, was this seemingly reckless and arbitrary decision made? We are still waiting to hear an answer.

Shannon Maraghy is an adjunct professor at Pasadena City College.

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