Some critics called it a “tattle button.” One parent called it “Rat My Professor.”
Plenty of professors and alumni pushed back last week when the University of Florida added a button to its campus-safety app that encouraged students to report if a professor who was supposed to be teaching in person switched classes to online. Under pressure, administrators altered the button on Friday—though it is still possible for students to use the app, called Gator Safe, to complain about how classes are being held.
For most of last week, a drop-down menu on the Gator Safe app let students report a “face-to-face/online course concern,” such as if “instructor modified the class to virtual.” After EdSurge and The Gainesville Sun reported on the app, complaints about the tactic spread quickly on Twitter, Reddit and other social-media platforms.
“Nothing like policing faculty to boost morale, UF!” wrote one professor on Twitter.
That drop-down menu is now gone. But there is still a button marked “Report face-to-face/Online Course Concern”—it’s just that now it pulls up a fill-in-the-blank response rather than a drop-down menu of possible concerns. In other words, it’s a pretty subtle shift.
“The app still gives the ability to let us know about any concerns about class, not just whether or not they show up in person or not,” said Steve Orlando, a university spokesman, in an interview Wednesday.
The change was made at the request from a group of deans, who asked the provost for the revision, said Orlando. No public note of explanation was sent to explain the switch.
The University of Florida has made an unusually forceful push to offer large numbers of courses in person this spring, and denied health-related requests from more than 50 faculty members who asked to teach online. That has led to a drop in morale, and Orlando said university leaders added the initial reporting feature to the app after they heard that some professors were considering teaching online without approval.
The revision to the app feature has not satisfied many critics. The union of graduate students at the University of Florida put out a statement on Saturday saying it was pleased that the administration “decided to remove the most explicitly obnoxious part of the ‘Report Face-to-face/Online Course Concern’ feature of the Gator Safe app.” But it added that that was not enough, calling on the university to remove the reporting feature altogether.
Meanwhile, some professors in the graduate student union have encouraged members to make fake reports through the app in protest, to try to clog up the system to make it ineffective, according to a report this week in The Gainesville Sun.
Orlando, the university spokesman, said that about 200 reports have been made through the app “that appear to be duplicative copy-and-paste messages from people objecting to returning to in-person classes, as well as a handful of messages containing profanities and vulgarities.”
Meanwhile, 13 seemingly legitimate reports from students have been sent since the feature was added. “None of the students who have written in have complained about professors not showing up in person,” he said.