University of Florida app allowing students to report faculty members causes controversy

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Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 9:18 AM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - More students at the University of Florida are back in the classroom this semester as part of HyFlex classes, a half in-person/half online course method.

In order to ensure students in the classroom are receiving in-person instruction, a new feature was added to the Gator Safe app, allowing students to report concerns to administration.

Many faculty members have spoken up, even writing letters of concerns to the deans. English Professor Susan Hegeman said she’s offended by the new feature.

“It’s concerning on civil rights grounds, it’s concerning on academic freedoms grounds,” said Hegeman. “The university is basically saying they didn’t trust us to deliver classes in the modality that was appropriate to our students and didn’t take into consideration the health and wellbeing.”

Hegeman said this brings up an even bigger issue and worries that faculty members of color will be more likely to receive reports.

“We know that students can be upset about grades, they can be upset about interactions with teachers, and they may very well and use this app to report on instructors that they don’t like for various reasons,” said Hegeman.

Other faculty members and organizations, including members of Graduate Assistants United (GAU), are taking action. GAU Co-President Bobby Mermer is taking part in a virtual protest to try and shut down the feature all together.

“There needs to be a high level of trust and they’re putting a wedge between it and it just needs to stop it’s inappropriate,” said Mermer.

He compares this to campaigns against gays and lesbians during the Johns Committee investigations back in the 1950s and 60s.

“It’s putting profit over people, it’s forcing employees and workers to choose between their lives and their livelihoods,” Mermer said.

UF Spokesperson Steve Orlando said the purpose fo the app isn’t to place a divide between faculty and students.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing for us is our obligation to the students,” said Orlando. “When they ask for an in-person class and we agree to provide it -- if an instructor doesn’t show for the class, we feel that’s a violation of the trust between the university and the student so we have to address that.”

Orlando said none of the over a dozen reports received so far are about professors not teaching in person.

“I think most of them had to do with high flex issues which was addressed in a couple of them had to do with a faculty members difficulty hearing five faculty member with that with a face mask on in the classroom one was about a faculty member who did not wear a facemark in the classroom.”

Based on the input from deans, the feature has been modified since it was first released with no plans to remove it anytime soon.

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