Biberman, Hafermann and Price: A Small Pivot

Dartmouth has a responsibility to teach hybrid this summer.

by Matthew Biberman , Valerie Price and Shannon Hafermann | 6/25/21 4:05am

As the world reacted to the unknown and unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, Dartmouth adopted a set of policies, excerpts and descriptions of which were sent to us by several anonymous professors. These policies, designed to continue through summer 2021, were intended to offer stability and enable students and professors to plan for the coming terms, despite the daunting uncertainty ahead. To their credit, Dartmouth turned on a dime and steadied the ship. 

Now, over a year later, the pandemic is ebbing rapidly. Vaccine rates are soaring, infection rates are plummeting. The world is changing again, this time in a way that brings hope rather than fear. 

This time, however, Dartmouth is no longer leading the way in terms of its teaching policies. Despite the changed face of the pandemic, Dartmouth is holding fast to a plan established over a year ago based on the limited data and knowledge of that time. It goes without saying that the situation has changed: We now have effective vaccines that  limit the spread of the virus. Dartmouth, however, has continued with clearly suboptimal policies that force on-campus students this summer to continue learning outside the classroom — alone in their dorm rooms, in some cases — even though such intense measures are no longer necessary. As parents of current students, we know this restrictive plan must end to protect the mental health of the student body. The College should implement a hybrid instruction plan, effective immediately.

As we have struggled to understand the summer instruction options, a problematic aspect of the policy came to light: many classes cannot be taught in person unless every student enrolled in that course is on campus. Furthermore, even for classes that have all students on campus, professors can still choose to teach only online. Why is this even a possibility? As of June 23, Dartmouth reported that 83% of on-campus or near-campus enrolled summer students are fully vaccinated, according to outgoing Provost Joseph Helble’s “Community Conversations” live stream. Given this vaccination rate, professors who do not show up to teach in person are failing our students. 

In the same June 23 “Community Conversations” livestream, dean of the faculty Elizabeth Smith praised her faculty for being able to pivot so quickly in 2020. So, Dartmouth faculty, make another pivot. Retain the heart of the pandemic plan — which allows for remote learners this summer — yet make a simple change to allow and even incentivize professors to teach using a hybrid model. By hybrid, we mean the model in which one professor teaches remote and in-person learners at the same time. Many public school teachers around the country adapted and taught hybrid throughout the pandemic — in largely worse circumstances than those in Hanover — so, surely, Dartmouth professors are more than capable of providing quality and equitable hybrid instruction. 

A vibrant classroom is a hallmark of the Dartmouth experience. Release students on campus from the isolation of learning alone in their dorm rooms. They need their professors and mentors to be present in person to teach them. And students — this year perhaps more than ever — need one another. Their mental, physical, and educational health depend upon it.

If Dartmouth refuses even this small pivot, then, students, each one of you should ask your professors to help secure a designated classroom where you can at least learn online in the same physical space as one another. Find your voices and reclaim your education. Learn together. Help teach each other. Form study groups. Walk to lunch. Then go jump in the river. 

The College and its faculty need to recognize that their students have been through too much this past year to deny them in-person instruction this summer.  

How can we as parents and alumni live with ourselves if we do not try everything in our power to seek the healthiest environment for students? We have written and signed petitions. We have written letters, made calls and requested meetings. We spoke to reporters. We bought ads. Now, we make our case to the community.

We implore you, Dartmouth, to make a small pivot. Teach hybrid this summer. Professors, demonstrate that you value the mental health of your students. Show up in person to teach.

University of Louisville English literature professor Matthew Biberman Ph.D., physical therapist Shannon Hafermann and retired nephrologist Dr. Valerie Price, M.D. are parents of current Dartmouth students. They also represent the Dartmouth Parent Advocacy Group, which is comprised of the parents of 17 Dartmouth families with students at Dartmouth. Biberman and Price are members of the Class of 1988. Hafermann is a member of the Class of 1991. 

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