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The Mass Media

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March 4, 2024
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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Learning remotely: Professor prospective

Timothy Barney (Ph.D, University of Maryland) is Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Communication Studies at the University of Richmond, where he teaches courses on public address, geopolitics, international relations, and visual rhetoric. He is the author of Mapping the Cold War: Cartography and the Framing of America’s International Power (UNC-Chapel Hill Press, 2015), and his work has been featured in Quarterly Journal of Speech, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, and the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication. He was the recipient of the Rhetoric Society of America Fellows’ Early Career Award in 2019. His current projects pertain to the rhetoric of development in the Cold War and post-communist presidential politics in Eastern Europe.

While it has been a difficult year for all of us, Timothy had quite an epic one. He and his wife, Elinor, welcomed their first child, Felix, to the world on January 16th, 2020. Tim spent most of his parental leave stuck in the house because of the Coronavirus. He was appointed chair of his department. The University of Richmond also decided that it would go back to in-person learning and teaching. Worried about how catching the dreaded virus could affect his newborn, he applied for a medical exemption so that he could teach remotely. Denied this he was, eventually, granted a pedagogical exemption. Having no family around them, Tim and his wife Elinor had no choice but to put Felix in daycare. Three weeks into the semester the daycare was shut down because a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Inevitably, Dr. Barney and his family tested positive.
 

Having recovered after his bout with the virus, Tim found some time to pick through the blur of the last half year with his brother via Zoom.
 

First off, how are you feeling?
 

I’m totally fine. Everything’s fine. Now that Felix is back in day care, we’re doing our full-time jobs again, which is good. I’m climbing out of a pretty deep hole at work because we were barely doing half of our jobs for the couple of weeks that we were in isolation. 
 

That sounds ridiculously stressful. I can’t believe you and Elinor worked while you were sick. What were you even able to do?
 

Not much. I was able to keep up with some basic duties. I couldn’t get much done beyond teaching my classes. I did the things that you have to do. Now, I’m kind of swamped. 
 

Did work know about your family having COVID?
 

“They did. I told the dean. I’m the chair, the dean’s now my direct boss. They’re like, “oh, we’re thinking about you and hope you’re doing well.” But they didn’t say, ‘Oh. why don’t we take this job off of you?’ The associate dean, the guy that works for the dean, I work with him pretty closely. ‘Yeah, you got a lot on your plate, right now.’ And that was it. It’s fine. I could have asked for help and they probably would have been totally fine with it. But I didn’t. So, it’s my fault as well.”
 

Still, that’s rough. You’d think they’d have protocol in place for when a teacher goes down. It seems inevitable when you’re having live classes. 
 

Ideally, yes. We’re all in uncharted territory here, though.
 

True. How has the adjustment been made going remote to live? They didn’t go all the way “in-person” to the end of the year last year, did they?
 

No. Everybody went remote last year. Middle to the end of the semester.
 

I was lucky to have pretty great professors last year. They really stepped up. I know you didn’t teach last semester. You were taking care of your brand-new baby. What have you heard from other professors and how they adjusted and how they feel about going back to “in-person” teaching?
 

The University of Richmond gave them one week to change their classes around from in person to online. And then they did the rest of the semester. The professors were really great. It’s a lot of work to transition like that. And everybody was pretty burnt out. The summer was spent doing lots of workshops and stuff and how to be better online teachers. So, the normal summer where you’re getting research done didn’t really happen for a lot of people. It was pretty intense.

As a student, I’ve found it frustrating that the classes I envisioned don’t necessarily translate well in remote teaching. But as an older student with a family and responsibilities, I can empathize with professors being forced to juggle between their own home situations and learning a new pedagogy in a short time frame. Did professors get penalized for not publishing or writing?

 

No, no, no. One of the great things they did was for people that are on the tenure track, they stopped the clock so that they have an extra year to do it. 
 

After spending half a year getting to just be a dad, you had to become an administrator, as well. What is that like in this messed up pandemic age?
 

It’s been a rude awakening. Jumping into this role during the pandemic is tough. I was made the liaison from our building to the emergency management folks [sic]. A professor shouldn’t be doing this. They chose professors to be the point person for the kind of signs we need to tell people to keep masks on. I had to be this liaison and have all the signs for the building to talk about the traffic patterns and how people are supposed to walk in our building. And I’m teaching remotely! I’m not even there. But, again, it’s my own fault. I said yes and I did it because the Dean asked me. 
 

I’m not sure I want the English department in charge of my healthcare.

Right? So, they have professors in charge of all these buildings.
 

Why?
 

[Chuckling] The reasoning is. “Well, the professors know them [the buildings] better than everybody else.”  That’s not necessarily true.

You’re doing all the “chair” stuff. Did you get any pushback on asking to teach your classes remotely?
 

A little bit. It wasn’t terrible or anything, but there’s two options that you get. You can get medical accommodation, or you can get a “pedagogical exemption.” The pedagogical exemption is if you think that your class would be better taught online during the semester. So I actually went for the medical accommodation because we were hearing Felix might get COVID and how do we deal with all that kind of stuff, which is so ironic considering what ended up happening. They didn’t grant me the medical accommodation. But they said, “You know, we’ll give you a pedagogical exemption.” They were pretty generous about giving people these exemptions, but it was a lot of bureaucratic stuff. 

You start teaching online, right? After working so hard to protect your family and be careful. . . How did you catch it?
 

I got it from my bastard son that I put in daycare!
 

Tim starts laughing at the irony of it all. He’s got an amazing sense of humor about a very serious situation. His chuckles belie a feeling of guilt. 

Has this given you a different perspective on life?
 

That’s a really good question. Yeah, I think it has. First of all, having a kid in the first place changes your whole worldview. You become less of a selfish person automatically. 
 

Tim starts choking up here. 
 

I was really upset when I found out that he had it, but I was really scared too. It gives you a perspective that sometimes, like all the work stuff that you get really upset about doesn’t mean as much as you think it does. That’s a hard lesson for me, because I always had my identity through my job. 
 

How has that change been for you? Have you welcomed it? 
 

I think it’s wonderful. There are there are days when I’m like, man, you know, if I just had the time that I used to have to do this research or read this book. You can’t do that anymore. I think it’s good to have that. It’s probably healthier to have balance between things.