Why faculty are pushing back on some reopening plans

Professors express concern about superspreader events that could harm a community
By: | July 6, 2020
Faculty at colleges and universities are urging to take more safety precautions against COVID-19, including keeping most courses online. (GettyImages/ zubada)Faculty at colleges and universities are urging to take more safety precautions against COVID-19, including keeping most courses online. (GettyImages/ zubada)

Faculty at a number of colleges and universities are expressing concerns that blocking the spread of COVID-19 isn’t addressed adequately in their campus’ reopening plan.

In an open letter signed by more than 850 Georiga Tech instructors, the authors said they were alarmed that “re-opening plans at Georgia Tech have been shaped based on guidance from outside the Institute, and with limited input from the faculty who are being asked to carry out these plans.”

The university’s procedures “do not follow science-based evidence, increase the health risks to faculty, students, and staff, and interfere with the nimble decision-making necessary to prepare and respond to Covid-19 infection risk,” they wrote.

The faculty urged Georgia Tech’s leaders to make online learning the default mode of instruction for the fall semester, limited on-campus activities to students who need access to labs or other specialized facilities, require face masks everywhere campus.


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Likewise, in the Midwest, several chapters of the American Association of University Professors have sent their own letter to higher ed administrators.

The organizations’ members wrote that they are profoundly concerned about reopening plans “given the almost assured potential to launch a superspreader event that will harm, or even kill, members of our communities.”

The letter also expressea fears about the further impact on black and brown communities that have already been disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Outbreaks at our universities will affect not only our campuses but our entire regional communities—especially people who are structurally disadvantaged,” they wrote. “Working-class communities of color, particularly Black communities, disproportionately suffer and perish from systemic inequities in all arenas, including public health and “public safety.”

The AAUP chapters asked administrators to prevent workload increases, recommit to shared governance to include faculty in decision-making and protecting the economic stability of all employees.


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In the Ivy League, a survey at Cornell University found faculty evenly divided between being anxious to return to the classroom, not interested at all and willing to come back depending on conditions, The New York Times reported.

Faculty at Penn State, the University of Illinois, Notre Dame and the State University of New York have signed petitions saying they’re input has not been included in reopening plans that are moving too fast, according to The Times.

“Until there’s a vaccine, I’m not setting foot on campus,” Dana Ward, an emeritus professor of political studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., told The Times. “Going into the classroom is like playing Russian roulette.”


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.