Faculty Union delivers sensible list of Covid “asks” to Johnson Hall bosses

The full message is here. Ask Number One:

Ask 1 – Flexibility for Illness and Quarantine

We told the administrators that our first priority was for instructional faculty to have a process for moving their class to a remote modality if they have COVID, need to quarantine, or have children who cannot attend school because of COVID.

Going into the conversation, we anticipated that this would be our most difficult ask. To date, we have only been told “the course schedule is the course schedule,” and it cannot be altered, leaving faculty no flexibility to take care of themselves or their children if needed.

We raised the issue that faculty and/or their household members may contract COVID, be exposed, or find themselves in a quarantine situation. When a child tests positive in a childcare center, that center or classroom often closes, and children are asked to get tested and to quarantine. School-age children who contract or are exposed to COVID will also be required to quarantine. Under these circumstances teaching remotely would be a logical solution if the faculty member is not too ill.

The administrators seemed receptive to this idea. They liked that it had “triggers” that were clear and would have a definitive ending period. They seemed to agree that there might be circumstances when it was unsafe for faculty to be in a classroom, and that there might be situations where faculty had unavoidable commitments preventing them from being at work. 

When the conversation moved to a larger discussion about faculty being professionals who can choose when it is necessary to change a course modality, we had a more difficult time. For instance, we raised the issue of faculty parents who are concerned about sending their children to school or day care during a pandemic. The administrators reiterated their objection to faculty working remotely due to their “fears” about COVID. We had some sharp conversation about when “fears” during a pandemic justified action and whether they should be dismissed at all. It was clear, though, that the administration is not willing to be flexible about teaching modalities outside of those dictated by medical requirements or government-directed quarantine.

To be clear, if a faculty member has a medically required reason to teach remotely, they can pursue accommodations through Human Resources. This appears to be the one and only way the administration sees teaching remotely as an acceptable solution. If you have had any difficulty with the accommodations process, please reach out to us and we can help.

We hope the administration will act in a timely and collaborative manner with us to work through remote options for faculty, but in general, the conversation around this topic was tough and took the bulk of our meeting time. While many of us faculty see this as a fairly simple request for instructors of record to adjust their class modality as necessary given the extreme and unusual circumstances of the pandemic, our administrators are finding this topic difficult to navigate.

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43 Responses to Faculty Union delivers sensible list of Covid “asks” to Johnson Hall bosses

  1. Rainbow Sparkle Pony says:

    I’m perplexed by this “ask.” Why is the Union bothering to ask for faculty autonomy in a situation where the virus will ultimately make the remote choice for us? Why isn’t the union demanding a clear policy from JH instead? Call me naive, but shouldn’t there be some guidance by now on the following: What situations/cases counts will trigger a full switch to remote learning? In what situations will a class be asked to quarantine? What happens when a student has to quarantine with one class, but expected to be present for their other three? If I have a student who needs to isolate because of another class, does that mean my class does too?

  2. Dog says:

    Seriously?

    We all have to teach to students in masks ..

    its already difficult to get classroom discussion going, now
    it would seem to be physically impossible.

    Remote is better for having some kind of discussion, at least, among some of the students. Zero discussion among all the students is unacceptable for the now masked physical classroom.

  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    The faculty obviously need to be unmasked when teaching. The students, not so much. The students could be allowed to remove mask when asking a question or engaging in discussion. That would undoubtedly raise the level of discussion. Covid as the true teaching engagement program!

    • Anonymous says:

      No chance taking mask off during lecturing will happen for a lot of faculty. You must be joking. Gonna risk my health and that of my family by taking off mask in a room with some unvaxxed and likely COVID-positive students?

      I get that we are going to be forced to march into classrooms, but no way they can mandate masks off for professors.

      Also, when is the going to be an announcement for what to do when inevitably students and faculty test positive?

      • honest Uncle Bernie says:

        Actually, I have in mind faculty having the option to teach unmasked. Personally, I don’t want to teach with a mask on, for various reasons.

        I have my doubts about how effective masks are. But it’s very easy to find contradictory data, and I don’t claim to have a definitive opinion.

        If covid rates are very high among students and staff, I certainly hope they will go remote. If they are too high for my own comfort level, I will jump ship. What that comfort level is will evolve with time. I predicted last spring that the virus would throw us a curve — when most other people like Kate Brown and Joe Biden were talking the happy talk. I expect there will be another surprise soon — and I don’t know whether it will be good or bad. I plan to be triple vaxxed before I go into a classroom. Essentially, I don’t count on masks to protect myself.

        Your last question is a good one, don’t ask me.

    • Dog says:

      So if you have bunches of students around tables that are in close
      proximity and they are engaged in group discussions, then we have a bunch of temporarily unmasked students spewing into the local air …

      • honest Uncle Bernie says:

        Actually, what I have in mind is lecture halls, where asking a question can be very awkward, or even impossible, with a mask on. If there’s a significant outbreak going on among the students or staff, “bunches of students around tables in close proximity” would be a very poor idea, whether with discussions or not. With what’s going on in Lane County now, I don’t see how UO can “reopen” if the contagion spreads to the campus “community.” I’m watching the weekly UO numbers carefully. If Lane County is really lucky, perhaps the contagion will even collapse soon. I wouldn’t count on it though.

        • Fishwrapper says:

          I’m calling shenanigans. Unless you are wearing a super-duper thick mask of cardboard, asking a question in a lecture hall is not even “impossible.” Awkward? I suppose, yes, as so many will be standing and constantly adjusting their mask to go over their nose as it keeps slipping down, but your everyday N95 or KN95 mask, which tend to be “thicker” and more “muffling” than the cloth masks folks seem to prefer, don’t reradicate the voice. Yes, some speaking up is required. But “impossible”??? We’ve had 18 months – or, for other thinkers, a full year and a half – to get accustomed to a.) wearing masks and b.) communicating through them. The honest Uncle protests too much. methinks. (Now, with that said, if we need to take all these precautions, perhaps we’re throwing caution to the wind by resuming in-person instruction in these large lecture halls at this time, but, let’s face it, we lose money when we don’t put butts in the seats…or the dorms.)

          • uomatters says:

            … or the football stadium.

            • Fishwrapper says:

              No number of butts in those seats will make up operational losses for housing and dining units. Those units need residential students in order to break even. (And keep their payrolls.)

          • Suspiciously Amenable says:

            I personally find it difficult to communicate while wearing masks both in the speaking and listening roles. I am far from a great orator in ideal circumstances and, while not impossible, I cannot imagine a student clearly understanding me in a lecture hall when the cashier at the grocery store cannot while standing three feet from me.

            It is difficult to understand how the institution sees fit to reopen in the current situation. From the impending difficulties that is K-12 and childcare to a general lack of redundancy planning for even small outbreaks and not even diving into the moral quandary arising from the probable impact the institutions reopening could have on available hospital space, I personally feel that the institutions general reopening is disruptive to effective student engagement and irresponsible to the community. I hope that the institution conducts a swift reconsideration and pursues a delay to in-person activities.

            • Fishwrapper says:

              I am going to ask because I do not know: are lecture halls that are big enough to be a trouble for soft-spoken folks – prior to masks – not already equipped with some form of microphone/audio system? I am sympathetic to those for whom the mask may be an issue, but if it is that much of an issue you might well have had trouble being heard before. And while, again, I am sympathetic to those for whom a mask may be an issue, is not the use of masks warranted in these times? My parents made sacrifices to win a world war overseas – can’t we make this sacrifice to win a public health battle here at home?

              • AnotherClassified says:

                The mic observation… they are a great tool. However, mics are most likely wonderful Covid spreaders — esp if it’s a handheld mic. You most definitely do not want to pass a handheld mic around for students to use in a lecture hall/classroom. If it’s a clip on mic how many of you hold it up to your lips to “test it” before proceeding? Be very careful out there.

                • Fishwrapper says:

                  A very good point. I, myself, use microphones and headphones – sometimes combination headsets – on a regular basis (I still work in broadcast production settings). Long before the days of Covid, I got my own headphones, then a headset, then, ultimately, a microphone that is compatible with the equipment in use on our campus. I have been using my own such tools to stick on or in my ears or in my face for talking since…the 80’s. (One of my student jobs long, long ago was to “sanitize” AV equipment like headsets in language labs with alcohol wipes.) It is likely that today’s room technologies can be “customized” for a much smaller cost than back when buying a lavalier with a connector for a wireless body pack was an esoteric purchase. heck with your classroom technology folks to see what your options are. For handhelds, it is very inexpensive to get a mic cover or foam windscreen that you can put over the mic before sticking it to your lips. Most handheld mic balls can be wiped down with an alcohol wipe. Lavaliers are trickier, but they do make disposable covers for those tiny mics, too. (You may see them on hearing microphones on C-Span.)

  4. New Year Cat says:

    The faculty do not “obviously” have to be un-masked when teaching. There are many ways to convey content besides speech. If I were teaching I would certainly NOT want a student to remove their mask while speaking — that is a time it should stay on their face to avoid the spread of aerosols, which travel much further than 6 feet.

    It is worth while reading the whole message, and not just the quote UO Matters highlights. It seems administrators were so tied to “butts in the seats” that they have been unable to see the reality in front of them: overloaded hospitals who have to call in the National Guard for help, huge caseloads….this is the time to re-implement last year’s policies and practices, not insist on inflexibly exposing your most valuable players. Those with children/quaratine issues may well vote with their feet if they are able to do so, in which case the course schedule may suddenly become much slimmer. Like the state government and OHA, UO overpromised on something over which it had no control — a pandemic, which is not actually ending.

  5. Walrus says:

    I wonder what the “sharp discussion” was like. What is the point of vaccination and vaccination requirements if vague faculty fears are enough to kill in person classes? There are so many people who haven’t updated their thinking or their fear level since over six months ago.

  6. AnotherClassified says:

    This is like the Charge of the Light Brigade or rather the Battle of the Somme?

    Alright Faculty, Adjuncts, GE/GTFs, Staff: over the top !

    Fill the dorms and every seat in the classrooms (no distancing please) and have at it. Play with the Delta. Inside Higher Ed is reporting so many other institutions pressure on instructors to toe the line and shut up and go over the top. And they are protesting. JHs lack of flexibility for you (and staff) isn’t because they don’t know what they’re doing. They know exactly what they’re doing and it’s diabolical. A disgusting lack of true leadership to react to the science just for the $. And not your health.

    • thedude says:

      How many of us are willing to take a 20-50 percent pay cut permanently for just our health?

      • It's classified. says:

        If the choice is pay cut or death… (of self or someone else)?

        But nobody thinks like that, so many people live paycheck-to-paycheck, and only care about putting food on the table.

        • thedude says:

          It’s not pay cut or death. Before vaccination my risk of death was maybe 1/1,000 for my age group if I was infected (and infections were not common in classrooms at Notre Dame or Cornell and they in person all year).

          After vaccination my odds of severe illness and death are now like 1/100,000. I’m more likely to die riding my bike to work.

          So if it’s a choice between 1/100,000 odds of death and I make 50 percent more money, I’m taken the pay increase 100 percent of the time.

          So many other occupations deal with risk as a part of their job. Are we so Ivory tower that we want to sit and zoom remotely, earning the same salary while every other profession takes on risks and we take on zero?

          Come back to reality. You take the pay cut and teach online. I’ll take the incredibly small risk and keep my job at current pay.

          • Environmental necessity says:

            It is not that I find this framing unpersuasive – it is very persuasive. And on the assertions presented here I would agree. I just want to point out that your calculus here is entirely selfish – you seem to give no weight to the impact that the UO opening may have on anyone else, including children unable to get the vaccine.

            • Thedude says:

              There’s not much evidence it spreads and classroom.

              There’s tons of evidence this disease is not a severe risk for kids.

              There’s the revealed preference of the FDA that they feel ok taking their sweet time in approving it for young children because they are not at great risk for severe disease.

              1,000 kids tragically drown every year (including a cousin of mine, and an aunt of mine). I still take my kids swimming. Roughly 10-15 percent of kids under 12 have had Covid and <200 have died.

              It's hard to live in a world where stuff is outside of our control. But that's always been the world we live in, Covid is just reminding us of that.

              Can everybody just admit most of us are acting out of selfish concerns and fears instead of pretending only some people are selfish and we are altruistic.

              • Observer says:

                How nice that your chance of serious disease is so small. That’s not true of all of us. My immune system is not all it could be, and the last time I had the flu (despite being vaccinated), I nearly died. It is quite impressive when you arrive at the emergency room with a temperature well above 104, despite various over-the-counter meds, and the staff takes your temperature and then they begin *running* to get you taken care of, because you are so dangerously unwell. Of course now there is not much more room for anyone in the hospital, however unwell. The cavalier attitude of the university, with folks telling me how low their chances of severe illness are, does not reassure me that anyone in charge takes my health into account when calculating how to maximize student revenue. And as for not much evidence that Covid spreads in classrooms — pay attention to what’s happening in K-12 schools across the country. It’s spreading like wildfire in schools. The fact that it hasn’t done so beforehand is that most schools were closed last year. But anyway, I don’t have to be persuasive about it, because it will all be apparent soon enough. I just worry about how many UO faculty will die in the process Maybe only two or three, which hardly counts, right? As long as student revenue is maximized.

              • Environmental necessity says:

                Those data are dated. We don’t know with any precision the threat posed to children in school by Delta. Some of the early evidence is not encouraging, at least more alarming than earlier variants.

                My point was a broader one: your framing suggests the only factors one should consider are their own health and employment. You reply: ‘I don’t think it is a big risk to others and, anyway, risk is everywhere.’

                Not sure that is as persausive as you think and in doesn’t disprove my point your framing is entirely selfish.

          • just different says:

            “99.7% survival rate” is a misleading right-wing talking point. The much bigger risk is disability from long covid and the risk to the community by spreading it.

            • Thedude says:

              Can you quantify those?

              I haven’t seen solid numbers on long Covid frequency.

              For hospitalization risk I think it’s about one in 200 pre vaccination and 1/10000 post. Still less the my risk of ending up in a bad bike crash riding to work.

            • Environmental Necessity says:

              And just some quick math, if there are 335M Americans and the death rates is 99.7%, and death is the only outcome we consider (ignoring long COVID, pain and suffering, lost productivity, etc.), and we assume universal exposure, that is still more than 1 million dead Americans. We are well on our way as we approach 700K so far. Must be nice to have so much privilege one can dismiss a million deaths as a rounding error. Also, that figure does not assume Delta (or Lambda or…)

              • thedude says:

                I’m not dismissing their deaths. I am dismissing are own privilege that we demand to teach remotely until the risks are zero, having our food delivered while the essential works take all the risks.

                If we want and demand that privilege post vaccination, we deserve our wages to be cut.

                • Observer says:

                  That some essential workers have to take risks doesn’t mean it’s decadent or uncaring if not everyone likewise takes risks. Surely we want to cut the risk-taking down to a minimum, not say “Well, if some people are at risk, heck, everybody should be!” The more in-person contact there is, the more virus transmission there will be. Cutting down on unnecessary contact is not a luxury of privilege, but an important part of slowing this virus down. But there’s also a contradiction between “Essential workers should not be the only ones to take risks” and “Anyway it’s hardly a risk.” If the virus is not that risky, then it doesn’t matter if essential workers are exposed to it. So the whole argument of “Don’t assume privilege” is moot.

  7. Old Gray Mare says:

    I think it would help the faculty a lot if UO did away with option of the “philosophical” exception. Why was it even included in the first place?

    • uomatters says:

      Rumor has it that the American Philosophical Society donated millions to Gov Brown’s campaign and then called in a favor.

    • uomatters says:

      Rumor has it that the American Philosophical Society donated millions to Gov Brown’s campaign and then called in a favor. OK, kidding, supposedly it’s part of state law but I’ve never seen a link to the statute.

  8. AnotherClassified says:

    Check out cdc.gov and their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for this week. I’ll post the link later today but it examines a Marin Co. CA elementary school teacher who infected most of the children; the teacher would occasionally remove their mask to read. Proximity was a factor to those infected even though doors and windows with building ventilation filters were in play. Social distancing of the students (via seating) also was enforced.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      Thanks. I read the SFGate story of this incident, pretty sobering. The classroom had social distancing, an air filter, and open windows. How many of our classrooms will have all of these, or any? And still the teacher infected a huge fraction of the class with delta. I wonder how much of a difference a mask on the teacher would have made. The numbers on new cases at UO among staff — I discount students because I have no idea how many are around — is not very reassuring. If it keeps up like this, I will not want to be in front of a class in the Fall. There are serious projections of a deep, deep plunge in new cases by the end of September. It may already have started in Lane County. Let’s hope.

      • thedude says:

        Cases have likely already peak in lane county and will be dropping after.

        They key question is to what degree do they come back in the winter due to seasonality.

        Here’s a real time tracker of spread. If Ro is over 1, cases are going up, if under, they are going down.

        The good news is even with full openness earlier, we never had spread of 2.5-3.0, which is what we would have expected if Delta had a replication factor or 6 and vaccine efficacy was low at 70 percent. So that suggests herd immunity might still be achievable, but we’ll see.

        https://covidestim.org/us/OR

  9. AnotherClassified says:

    cdc.gov and their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
    Here’s the link — https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7035e2.htm?s_cid=mm7035e2_w

  10. Dog says:

    From a colleague at Texas A&M:

    I admit it. I am scared. I start teaching 156 students next week, in a lecture hall with 156 seats. I am not allowed to require masks. Our University does not do contact tracing – only reporting, so I have no idea who is sitting where. I am not allowed to teach online. So, if one student comes down with COVID and there is no contact tracing, does the whole class go into quarantine? Including me? We have almost no guidance from the administration. It is as if they are waiting to react, but will they defy the Governor who threatens to take away funding if masks are required or we go into online teaching? Not likely.

    What has the University done?

    1. We must get tested between now and 10 Sept. One mandatory test.
    2. A plexiglass screen has been placed between me and the lecture seating. But this is only a ground-floor screen in a lecture hall that has arena seating.
    3. They say they have improved air filtering where they were able to.
    4. The University provides free and accessible voluntary testing.

    Dwight Eisenhower said in 1957,

    “I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.”

    I would feel better if I knew the level of planning by the University to what may be a real crisis in three weeks.

  11. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    Ah, Eisenhower. He was consider a dope by a great many people in higher education in 1957, when he was president. Of the United States. Before that, he was president of Columbia University. That was kind of a part-time job for him, at which he did very well protecting academic freedom and raising money. But his other part-time job then was organizing what became NATO! Truly a very capable man who was underappreciated in his own time. There are people who remember his handling back around 1957 of the Little Rock schools crisis (in response to Brown vs. Board); Sputnik; and the crisis of the islands off of Taiwan. Imagine someone like that now. Oh, also, he extricated us from the Korean war, and after that there were few or no American military casualties for the rest of his two terms.

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