Give Rice professors the choice to teach in person

Give Rice professors the choice to teach in person

September 3, 2021
Petition to
Administration of Rice University and 3 others
Signatures: 358Next Goal: 500
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Why this petition matters

Started by Noah Spector

On Thursday, September 2, the nearly 600 students in ECON 100 at Rice University received a heartbreaking email from James DeNicco, the professor. "To say that I am disappointed is beyond an understatement. I guess all I can really say is that I am sorry. That doesn’t feel like enough though. I know that this was not my decision, but I can’t help but feeling like I am completely letting all of you down. It is not an understatement for me to say that there is little more I wanted in the world right now than to get back in the classroom with you."

Rice University's population is 91% vaccinated, and the number will only continue to grow as faculty, staff, and students complete their vaccination course. Less than 3% of the community indicate that they do not intend to get the vaccine. Rice's high vaccination rate has paid off; of the 40 positive results, none were hospitalized, and many had only cold or flu-like symptoms, per the latest communication from Rice.

We need to re-evaluate, as a community, what the end goal of our COVID-19 restrictions should be. Only one human disease has ever been eradicated, smallpox, which took 200 years of vaccination. While immunology has undoubtedly advanced since the late 18th century, it has become apparent that COVID-19 is here to stay. 

The price of each restriction is the student body's wellbeing. Online classes are draining, and a completely virtual format precludes any student-to-student interaction. There is no discussion about the previous night's homework as we take our seats, nor quick clarifying questions directed at the person next to us. Those moments build the classroom environment and satisfy the social instinct that makes us human.

Mental health has taken a nosedive over the course of the pandemic. Multiple people close to me have had mental health crises over the past year and a half, and unfortunately, my experience is far from atypical. While the public health benefits of the lockdowns outweighed the consequences at the outset of the pandemic, with an almost entirely vaccinated community, we are imposing needless suffering on the student body.

The Rice administration claims that 92% of classes have less than 50 people. While that statistic is accurate, it does not take into account the fact that larger classes, by definition, have more people. Weighted for class size, that number drops to 66%, meaning that most, if not all students are significantly affected by the shift to online.

Further, many large classes have already been held in person with nominal transmission. Courses with significant freshman enrollment, such as MATH 212, MATH 101, and BIOS 201 returned to in-person instruction before the September 3 cutoff, yet the only vector of transmission identified in the August 30 communication was a party, where attendees were unmasked and in close quarters. There is no evidence of transmission in class. The restriction of in-person classes is now unnecessary, given masks, frequent testing, and the large vaccinated population. 

This petition is to allow professors and students to make the choice to return to in-person if they are comfortable doing so, regardless of class size. The current system expects professors to hold large classes virtually. If a professor chooses to continue virtually, they should be allowed to do so; likewise with a student. For the wellbeing and happiness of the student body and faculty, though, professors and students who want to return in person should have the support of the administration in doing so.

Support now
Signatures: 358Next Goal: 500
Support now

Decision Makers

  • Administration of Rice University
  • Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman
  • Provost Reggie DesRoches
  • Director of Crisis Management Kevin Kirby