FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Universities across the country are deciding whether to push for more in-person classes in the spring semester. The University of Arkansas’ English Department is discussing whether to use stipend money as an incentive to put more teachers in classrooms.

An email sent to instructors and graduate assistants Tuesday detailed a central administration plan to incentivize face-to-face classes by offering significant stipends.

“The face-to-face sections will have reduced enrollments and a supplemental stipend of $4,000 for teaching each face-to-face section will also be awarded,” the email said.

The money will come from federal relief, the email said, and Comp. I and II classes were referenced.

Allison Geren is a graduate student in the English department who’s utilized remote technology this semester to teach her courses. She said this method has been tough, but she feels confident in the merits of online instruction.

“This is not an ideal situation, and I would never argue that this is an ideal situation,” Geren said. “I do think education, especially English education, is something that can be done effectively virtually.”

Geren said the incentivization plan unfairly impacts immunocompromised instructors, and she added it’ll force some underpaid instructors into a tough position.

“For $4,000, that doesn’t seem like a lot to people who have a stable income, maybe, [but] that is life-changing money,” Geren said. “We’re paid far below a living wage. A lot of our graduate assistants have to rely on food pantries.”

The email reiterated this is a voluntary opportunity, meaning teachers can still choose to teach virtually. They just won’t receive the stipdend.

“Accepting this offer is entirely voluntary, and I ask you to think long and hard about any risks you face by teaching face-to-face especially in January,” the email said.

A message from the department chair, Dr. William Quinn, offered sympathy toward teaching assistants who lamented the program, but he shared administrators’ reasoning.

“The administration’s thinking, however, is that this one-semester emergency funding will prevent a mandate to return to face-to-face teaching for all who do not have a formal CEA accommodation,” Quinn said.

Geren said she hopes the UofA considers paying GAs and instructors a living wage so they don’t have to weigh risking their health to make ends meet.

“That says the university has a problem, not necessarily that person, specifically,” Geren said.

University administrators didn’t respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.