Professors Must Act to Save Winter Quarter

Professors Must Act to Save Winter Quarter

As the saying goes, no news is good news. On Friday, Stanford students and faculty received news. Despite the fact that, as Stanford admits, “classrooms at Stanford have been low-risk environments,” Stanford has extended online classes for Winter Quarter from two weeks to three.

An entirely-online quarter is a real possibility if students and faculty accept the current rules without protest. The new guidelines blame the postponement of in-person classes on a rise in on-campus Covid cases. But cases will inevitably rise throughout the quarter. Most of these cases, however, will be entirely asymptomatic or mild. Health administrators dramatically overestimate the severity of the situation for a fully-vaccinated (and soon, boosted) campus. If their poor logic remains unchallenged, they could force classes online for an additional two or three weeks, maybe even the rest of the quarter.  

No one is happy with a third week of online classes. Not we the students, nor our professors. But there is a way out: professors can retake control of their own courses and prevent the further delay of in-person instruction. As the new rules state, graduate-level courses can still be held in-person starting January 18.

Well, what counts as a graduate course? The University itself is unsure. As ExploreCourses notes, “Stanford does not have a standard course catalog numbering system.” At a minimum, all courses numbered 300 and above are graduate courses, and no course below 200 is graduate. But within the 200 level, professors have complete discretion to deem their classes to be graduate-level and bring us back in-person.

And we encourage professors to do so. Demonstrating that classes can be held in-person is the surest way to save our quarter. Many undergraduate courses are cross-listed at the graduate level. Take HISTORY 158C: History of Higher Education in the U.S. Given its sub-200 level listings, this class would appear to be an undergraduate course. But this course is also cross-listed as EDUC 265, a graduate-level course, and the entire class could be brought back in-person by Week 3. This may not be possible for all Stanford courses, but hopefully, enough professors will act to prove that classes can be held in-person without further delays.

According to the new guidelines, professors can bring their courses in-person Week 3 if their course requires “labs, design projects, art practice,” or is “performance-based.” What constitutes a “performance-based” or “art practice” is straightforward. But what qualifies as a “lab” or “design project” is much more ambiguous… We encourage professors to be highly creative in incorporating “labs” and “design projects” into their syllabi.

All this makes us wonder: if it wasn’t professors or students who demanded online classes — the only people who could get Covid from in-person instruction — who called for this decision? Those who implemented the policy are not affected by it, and the people affected by it don't want the policy implemented. That’s a question for another day. Right now, we must return to normalcy as quickly as possible.

To the Stanford professoriate: we usually look to you for your wisdom and insight, we now look to you for leadership. We know you love to teach - we only ask that you would help us learn. So let’s follow the science: change those course designations and get us back in the classroom!

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