University of Florida modifies ‘tattle button’ after pushback from students, faculty

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The University of Florida reversed course on a “tattle button” that allowed students to report complaints about professors who altered a class’ format from in-person to online, after pushback from students and faculty. 

The controversy came after the school introduced the option on GatorSafe, a campus app, to report professors who made discretionary changes to course modality while trying to juggle the hurdles of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The feature was later modified to remove the specific professor complaint function but students are still allowed to send in general complaints but by providing their own reasoning to accompany it. 

A spokesperson for the university, Steve Orlando, told Fox News in an interview Tuesday that the app feature was intended to be a method of feedback for students to report any issues with faculty not showing up to teach in-person classes or other issues pertaining to dual-modality classes, or “Hyflex” courses, that take place both in-person and online.

“If we have agreed to offer these in-person classes, we’ve entered into an agreement with the student and if an instructor failed to show up to teach that class in person, we would consider that a violation of the trust and the agreement between the student and the university,” Orlando said, adding that it was important to give students the option to express concerns about their experience with classes.

Orlando said the university received a little over a dozen complaints but none of them were targeted toward any specific faculty members not showing up, and were instead about issues with the modality or format of the classes.

Students have complained that professors are unable to give the same individualized attention to students at home via Zoom as they do to those in the classroom. 

The university ramped up the number of in-person classes for the spring semester after students and family members expressed a wider interest in resuming in-person instruction despite the coronavirus pandemic.  

About 25,000 students at the University of Florida enrolled in at least one face-to-face class for the spring, roughly half of the total enrollment at the university, Orlando said.

Graduate Assistants United union co-President Bobby Mermer told The Gainsville Sun the “snitching app” is just a way to pit students against professors, who aren’t allowed by the administration to discuss class options with their students.  

Mermer said that the app could be used as a way for disgruntled students to make false accusations at the end of the semester as a means of retaliating for poor grades or other gripes. He encouraged union members to flood the app with false complaints in protestation. 

Orlando told Fox News the app function saw an and influx of messages containing “the same language,” indicative of a “copy and paste campaign.”

“I would disagree with the characterization of it being a ‘snitch app.’ I would call it a feedback method,” Orlando said.  

“I think particularly for faculty, we are enormously [grateful] for our faculty,” Orlando said. “They have done incredible amounts of effort throughout the pandemic to make sure the students get the education that they’re here for and have overcome tremendous obstacles. We trust them and we are grateful.”

The University of Florida has taken precautionary steps to ensure in-person learning is guided by science, and per the regulations outlined by both health experts at the school and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have implemented mandatory face coverings for students and instructors, social distancing and daily classroom cleanings, among other precautions, Orlando said.

The university has also upped the amount of COVID-19 testing to about 2,600 people a day this semester, compared with 700 to 800 in the fall, according to the Orlando Sentinel. 

Still, the university does not require students to test negative for the virus before coming to campus for in-person instruction, a cause for concern for both professors and other members of the campus community worried about spreading the virus. 

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