Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Chronicle of Higher Education, Lower Pay. Less Job Security. More Covid-19 Risk?:
Lower-ranked instructors bear a disproportionate share of the risk of Covid-19 exposure while teaching at Auburn University, where only about half of the classrooms have the capacity to achieve physical distancing in accordance with public-health guidelines, a preliminary study has found.
The unpublished paper, written by two Auburn economics professors and a graduate student, suggests that inequities in the academic labor force have been exacerbated by a hard push for in-person instruction that places contingent faculty members and graduate students in the riskiest teaching environments.
The Distribution of Occupational Risk During the COVID-19 Pandemic:
We study the distribution of the risk of COVID-19 infection across instructors following the resumption of on-campus instruction at Auburn University during the 2020-2021 academic year. Although Auburn University did not implement a social distancing policy in the classroom, it did enforce an enrollment limit of 50% of normal classroom capacity. Our risk measure is constructed by comparing the actual enrollment in classes to the maximum number of students a classroom can hold and still maintain (CDC recommended) six feet of social distance. We find that approximately half of the face-to-face classes have enrollments that exceed the CDC social distancing capacity. In about one in five face-to-face classes, there are more students than twice the CDC capacity. Women and non-white instructors are more likely to teach in risky classrooms compared to their male and white colleagues, respectively.
Instructors who hold higher ranks within the University hierarchy, such as the administrators, tenured and tenure-track professors, and staff, deliver their courses in safer classrooms relative to the contract instructors, graduate student instructors, and lecturers.
Although the precautions taken by the University increased the share of CDC-compliant classes by 10-15 percentage points, these benefits were distributed unequally among the instructors. The greatest reductions in risk accrued to the white instructors and those of higher rank at the University, such as the administrators, staff, and professors. We also present a model that shows how the University could have benefitted at the expense of instructors by not widely advertising information on safe room capacities to the instructors.