Higher Ed Members Feel ‘Disconnected,’ ‘Very Tired’

Prevention and Safety

Since every institution of higher education approached teaching in the pandemic differently, instructors and staff are not on a level playing field. Some have been required to go virtual, and others were told they must be on campus.

“I feel like my health and safety are not valued by my institution,” one respondent to NSEA’s survey of higher education members wrote. “I believe the chancellor and board’s insistence on in-person teaching has put me and my family at risk.”

Others were given the freedom to make their own choice.

“Sometimes, I feel like a person who is disconnected from others and invisible in life because I have chosen to go remote now instead of having face-to-face classes,” wrote another. “However, I worry about getting out and being physically present because of COVID-19.”

Some feel they are being left in the dark when it comes to the details of COVID-19 spread on their campuses.

“The school provides overall infection rates but does not relate to us if we have been in close proximity to infected students or personnel,” one replied.

When it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19 on campuses:

  • 92 percent said all students and staff should be mandated to wear masks.
  • 95 percent said their students are required to mask, but only 89 percent said staff are required to mask.
  • 75 percent said their institutions have provided enough personal protective equipment (masks, sanitizers, shields, etc.) for staff, though some said their institutions have not provided any at all, largely because they are working remotely.
  • On a 1 (unsafe) to 5 (safe) scale, 66 percent rated their feeling of safety relative to COVID-19 while on their campus at a 3 or 4.

Communication

Several participants said they aren’t getting clear, consistent communication from their institution’s administration. Policies related to COVID-19 are changing rapidly, and they feel they are being left behind.

“(Administrators) have not been open with us about the number of students/employees who have had positive COVID tests, and they are not seeking faculty input,” one respondent wrote.

Survey results showed:

  • 47 percent said they felt their institution was not listening to educator input related to COVID-19.
  • 43 percent said their institution was not communicating effectively with educators and staff about COVID-19 updates and plan adjustments.
  • Only 54 percent said they felt respected and valued by their institution.

Workload

Instructors and staff surveyed overwhelmingly expressed concerns about increases in workload and worries about mental health—for their students, for their colleagues and for themselves.

“We need more mental health resources available for K-12 teachers and college instructors,” one participant wrote. “I know that many of my colleagues are really struggling emotionally and are experiencing significant burnout, although they would never admit it in a department meeting or to administration. We’re all just trying to hang on right now.”

Many commented on the unsustainability of their current workload, planning classes both in-person and virtually for some.

“Being tied to my computer is very uninspiring. Balancing computer/work time with personal time and the expectations of those who are emailing you is hard,” another wrote.

“My institution has encouraged faculty to office from home. This has increased faculty disengagement. Many shared program responsibilities are falling on program leadership and a few faculty while others are doing only their teaching responsibilities,” one respondent wrote.

Regarding mental health and employee workload:

  • 57 percent felt their employer was not concerned about their mental welfare.
  • 23 percent said they have sought help from a mental health or medical professional because of increased work stress since the pandemic began.
  • 64 percent reported working more than they did before COVID-19, with the majority of those working 4 to 9 additional hours per week, and some tacking on an extra 15 hours or more per week.
  • Still, 82 percent said they have no plans to leave the education profession in the next five years.

One participant summed up the situation in just a few words:

“I am very tired.”