Much has been said about the University of Miami’s decision to re-open this fall, and great strides were made to ensure that this was done with everyone’s health and safety in mind. Some have reacted negatively to the decision to hold in-person classes, but my view could not be any more different. I have never once worried about my safety on this campus and have immensely enjoyed teaching “mask-to-mask” this semester.
My wife, professor Nicole Leeper Piquero, and I moved here amidst the pandemic. When we were asked about our teaching preference, never once did we hesitate that we wanted to be in the classroom. We have been in academia for a combined period of nearly 50 years, have accomplished research and award-winning teaching records and take teaching and mentoring students as a privilege that is among the most rewarding of one’s academic life. We teach. How can we not do it in person?
Many people asked us, “are we worried about getting the virus,” “do you think the students will do their part,” and so on and so forth questioning why we would want to teach in person. It is pretty simple: The in-class experience of looking at students, having meaningful conversations and debates and how we can use data and science to make more informed policy decisions are all important. And here is where I think the University of Miami has been a leader.
When our administration decided to “open up” this fall, there were many who raised concerns—some of which were justified as some people have vulnerabilities that prevent them from being in public settings—but this administration is guided by a president whose life experience has positioned him ideally to lead this institution—and to do so with science as the guide. The provost and his team have dealt with a deluge of concerns and requests and have done the best they can because they want to provide the university’s students with the best possible educational experience, while doing everything they can to provide a safe environment to do so. Our classrooms are well-designed for social distancing, all the necessary cleaning supplies are there, and there are constant reminders of the need to do our part by cleaning our hands, masking up and keeping distance. We are all part of this new social contract.
All of this is not to say that other styles of teaching and learning are not as useful or comparable—they certainly are, and faculty are to be commended for re-orienting and re-imagining how they teach. We all were forced to do so last spring when every university closed. As well, it is important to be mindful and supportive of those instructors who have opted out of in-class instruction due to health concerns. Family and health are always one’s top priority.
My hope is that we just stop all the negativity. Let’s work together to be role models for each other. We want our students to be constructive citizens who make important contributions to the world. And the world does not stop; their education has to continue, our research moves ahead, and we have to live everyday doing the best we can. We can do what we do safely and smartly.
Alex R. Piquero
Chair & Professor, Department of Sociology & Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar