Students baffled by missing online-class professor

Daily Sundial

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Students from two Pan-African studies and two urban studies and planning online classes were left confused and without a professor when she stopped communicating with them after the fifth week of classes, according to the students and school officials.

Lisa Richardson, professor of urban studies and planning and Pan-African studies, has not recently contacted either department after numerous attempts by their employees and university officials to contact her. These attempts were made following repeated inquiries by students in two PAS 300OL and two URBS 150OL classes.

Tom Spencer-Walters, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department, said his department tried to contact Richardson several times through various ways.

Spencer-Walters said he personally spoke to Richardson about four or five weeks ago because of an inquiry from a student who had not heard from her in some time.

“At that time she assured me and reassured me that she would get back to the students,” he said. “Other students later contacted me and (informed) me that still no information (was received) back from her.”

Spencer-Walters said Richardson informed him during their last conversation that because of her travel to the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina she could not access the technology to keep in constant contact with the class. He said the number listed for Richardson is different from the number she called from seven to eight weeks ago. Like other professors, Richardson still has a voice mail on her office phone.

The Pan-African Studies Department staff made a serious effort to contact Richardson, leaving her several messages, Spencer-Walters said.

Christopher Beck, a student from one of the PAS 300 online classes, said in an e-mail that he has been out of touch with Richardson since Oct. 5. He said it worries him and the other students because they do not know how they will be graded.

William Dagodag, chair of the Urban Studies and Planning Department, said he heard from students about Richardson about five weeks ago. The department is working on a solution and “trying to get somebody to take over the class,” he said.

According to Christopher Vogel, an administrative support coordinator for the Urban Studies and Planning Department, phone calls to Richardson from the department started around Nov. 7 because students were having trouble trying to get hold of Richardson.

Randal Cummings, coordinator of online instruction in Undergraduate Studies, said this is unusual because there have been numerous efforts to contact Richardson.

Cummings said he spoke to the Urban Studies and Planning Department, which informed him that staffers tried to contact Richardson through the emergency contact information that she provided and that no one had heard anything back from her.

“(The) lines of communication are there, (but) yield no results,” Cummings said. “I think the (contact) number she has was an East Coast number.”

According to Cummings, there were numerous attempts made since student concerns first arose, but despite the university’s efforts, “nobody has heard anything from her.”

He said the last e-mail correspondence he received from Richardson was on Sept. 26 as a result of a student inquiry that he forwarded to her. He said Richardson responded to him, saying she was at an international conference and was not able to get Internet access.

Cummings said the online classes’ site showed that Richardson posted the fifth week of class materials for students. The last time Richardson logged in through the online chat feature was Oct. 5, he said.

Cummings said he has received numerous e-mails from students from the class and has forwarded them to Cynthia Rawitch, associate vice president for Undergraduate Studies.

He said Harry Hellenbrand, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, then requested an investigation and both departments stepped in.

“It was a great deal of concern, so I took it to Cynthia Rawitch, who took (the issue) to the appropriate deans, even to the top – to the Provost,” Cummings said.

Johnie Scott, director of the writing program and professor in the Pan-African Studies Department, and Claude Willey, professor in the Urban Studies and Planning Department, will substitute for Richardson’s online classes, Cummings said.

Cummings said he was in the process of providing the professors with online classes.

“I am challenged to step in,” Scott said. “I first designed the PAS 300 online class in 1998.”

Scott said he was notified by Spencer-Walters to substitute on Nov. 15, and he e-mailed all the students on Nov. 16, saying he was going to take over the class.

Along with Scott’s introduction, he said he gave students guidelines and structure to compress the course materials for the remaining weeks.

Spencer-Walters said the students would still earn three units for the class, despite the complications.

“We want the students to … get something out of it,” Spencer-Walters said.

Kyle Luna, senior real estate finance major, said that despite getting a substitute professor for his online class he is upset for how the university responded to the events. He said there is no excuse for how long it took, and said he personally wants a formal apology and explanation from a university official.

He said he even sent correspondence to President Jolene Koester to address the issue, adding the incident was an “irresponsibility of the university.”

Spencer-Walters said Richardson has been in the university for about two years.

“It was unlike her. According to the department(s), she is a very responsible, talented and intelligent person,” Cummings said. “We trained her on how to do the tricks and engage her students, but this is her first semester she is teaching the online class.”