Back to School!

Yesterday was the first day of classes at UF, and the Library’s first day back on our usual schedule of being open later during the week, which means I’m back to my usual evenings alone in the Library with the students. Campus has been a bit of a disaster for a week now as students have moved into their dorms, wandered around with their parents finding their classes, and generally clogged up the streets and buildings in their bustling masses.

I have mixed feelings about the return to regular classes. I like the slower pace of summer, with fewer people and less traffic. It’s soothing and it makes getting to work much less frustrating every day. But I also prefer my evening schedule (I’m very bad with mornings), and there’s just something…zesty about the teeming throng of Fall Semester. There’s an excitement in the air, an almost feeling of anticipation of great things coming our way that you really don’t get any other time of the year besides the beginning of Fall Semester. An air of possibility and discovery and joy that is infectious.

This year, there’s also a certain amount of fear though. The State Board of Governors of the State University System meets in a few days on campus, and they will be discussing all the horrendous new laws passed in the spring legislative session. They will be deciding how those laws apply to UF and the other schools in the state, and handing down verdicts on how we are to be treated for the coming year. The Board of Governors is made up entirely of DeSantis appointees at this point, so the fear that they will interpret these laws as harshly as possible and with the greatest restrictions on our freedom is real. Florida has become the state where freedom goes to die, and for those of us who can’t or won’t flee, we are stuck in very uncomfortable times indeed.

Beyond that, there has also been a rise in attempted violence on campus this year. Today we had our second swatting attempt on campus just this summer. Both have been in high traffic areas, the main campus library and the natural history museum. Nobody has been hurt in either, but in my 3.5 years on campus I cannot remember such a thing ever happening before. It does not escape my notice that this sudden spate of calls has come about after an extremely destructive-to-education legislative session. I don’t know who the target of these hoaxes has been specifically, but I would bet quite a lot of money that it was a marginalized person both times.

Then there’s the current rise in Covid cases around the country. Covid hospitalizations have risen 22% this week, and new variants are being reported. But no mask mandate is or will be forthcoming on campus or around the state because the man in charge of this state is committed to the narrative that Covid is a hoax. Despite people dying in greater numbers here, we will not even be allowed to require masks on our own.

So. We’re back to school, in a hostile climate, and we’re expected to carry on as usual. But somehow I don’t think this Fall Semester is going to be business as usual. It would be nice if there was some acknowledgment of that from those in charge. Or even just a pay raise to make it worth it. Instead, we’ll get mealy-mouthed emails from HR claiming they are trying to make UF a place where employees feel cared for and supported and a refusal to raise pay even to keep up with inflation.

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