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Office Hours: A Campus Without Students

Every Winter, Spring, and Summer break, I love to work on campus. It’s quiet. I can walk at whatever pace I want. I don’t have to dodge around cell phone users who can’t walk in a straight line. There’s always an open spot for my bike. True, none of the eateries or coffee shops on East Campus are open, but Taylor Street and Greektown are close enough to meet all my culinary needs.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my students. There is no way that I could have survived 12 years of teaching if I didn’t love sharing knowledge about my field of study with receptive students. I enjoy talking to students during Student Hours about their career goals and how to achieve them. I feel an extreme sense of accomplishment when I can help a student solve a problem, and it’s gratifying when a student leaves my office feeling better than when he or she arrived. I do NOT enjoy grading, but no educator does.

So, if I love my students, why do I prefer working on campus when there are no students around? It’s a nice change of pace, and absence really does make the heart grow fonder. When students return to campus, ready for a new semester and a new challenge, I appreciate them more because I had a break from them. I too have had an opportunity to reset and renew myself for a new semester.

But what is happening now is not restful or peaceful. It is quiet though.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash For the latest from UIC on campus policies and procedures, visit https://today.uic.edu/coronavirus

The University of Illinois System has asked all faculty to move their classes online by the end of Spring Break, which means that some faculty are still holding classes on campus. Most, however, have already moved online or canceled classes until they can move online. This has left campus looking abandoned and sad. Unlike scheduled breaks, when the campus feels as if it is at rest, now it feels as if the world is ending tomorrow. The few students who walk the sidewalks of campus look like the survivors of the apocalypse – no smiles, just moving toward where they need to go and hoping for the best.

Unlike during the apocalypse, the expectation is that life will return to normal eventually. The problem is that no one knows when. Those who have worked hard to graduate this semester will probably not get to celebrate during a graduation ceremony in May. Students who rely on tutoring will struggle to adapt to online assistance. Faculty will not be able to guarantee the integrity of their tests, quizzes, or exams if they all need to be taken online.

Other questions arise as well. What will happen to all the hourly wage workers who staff the eateries and coffee shops on campus if they have no customers? Will staff be forced to take sick days if they are self-quarantined in fear of getting the virus? Will summer classes be offered? With insufficient leadership from Washington and a confusing message from the University System, it’s unclear what the answers to these questions will be.

Until then, I will continue to walk through this lonely campus, trying to appreciate the quiet, but knowing that danger may be right around the corner.

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