COVID Planning: The Work Continues

Dear colleagues,

Many of you have read the petition sent by CSWS recently to the Office of the Provost. UAUO fully agrees with the concerns Professors Escallón, McKinley, and Stephen articulated, and we are also in full support of their ask that “caregivers of unvaccinated children (children under 12) can continue to teach and attend meetings [remotely] at least until their family members receive the vaccine.”

We’ve also heard from faculty whose health puts them at serious risk by being in-person, yet they cannot qualify for ADA accommodations. And for those of us who are able to come back to campus, we are still concerned about what upgrades to ventilation systems have been made in the specific classrooms and spaces we’ll be working out of, how classroom spaces in relation to class size will account for distancing, if technology needs for individual spaces will be met, and how mask enforcement in our classrooms will happen while a mandate is still active, among others. We also need to make sure we understand how HR and Student Conduct will handle “discipline” for both us and our students, respectively, in relation to COVID policies and requirements.

I also wonder if this year we can make some serious decisions on what “essential” service is. Too many of you were simply doing too much and will be overtaxed come this year, again. I know we like to think (who doesn’t?), everything we do is essential, but come on y’all, we know how much bs we spend our time on…

I am grateful we have folks in central administration who are willing to meet with us regularly to work through all of these pieces, and I don’t envy the decision-making responsibilities they have, trying to put things in place to alleviate all of these concerns, knowing that 100% risk mitigation is a fantasy (in almost any environment). But time is running out on us, and I hope last year’s lessons are salient at this moment: we need to be ahead of things, not playing catch-up or wait and see. “We’re working on it,” or something to that effect, isn’t enough to alleviate the growing anxiety some of us are facing as we get closer to welcoming back thousands to our campus. But then again, I don’t have anything to offer, either, other than, we’re working on it, too.

And to draw back a bit to a bigger-picture concern, I am worried that the in-person narrative floating around also assumes that we can time travel. I don’t get the sense that it is possible to simply return to a “pre-COVID” time. Rather, it seems like we may have to live with this as yet another thing out there that makes life fragile, that increases the vulnerability to premature death for those marked by difference and power. But then doesn’t that require us to face what we’re facing as long-term adjustments to how we work, and who can work? Don’t we also need to reckon with how this impacts our students, especially those on the margins?

When COVID first hit and we went into lockdown, I sincerely thought that moment was an opportunity to get our values squared away: what really matters? What doesn’t? So while we’re working on the material working conditions of our moment, I think we need to consider what this all means long term for us and our students. Maybe we got a shot at creating an educational experience we can truly be proud of, and do so valuing and honoring the levels of risk we all face in this new epoch.

I know there are certain levels of risk associated with simply being alive in this world. When I chose to take up this life, where I get to sit and read and think and write and teach, I didn’t, however, imagine I would have colleagues having to choose a paycheck over the health of themselves or their loved ones. I don’t know what else to say except, that shit ain’t right. There’s something fundamentally flawed and contradictory that this is the case and that so many of my closest colleagues on the Career side will be doing the majority of in-person teaching while getting paid laughable salaries for what we bring to this U. I know we’re all supposed to be pulling together and what not, but damn, it seems like, once again, the most vulnerable are gonna bear the brunt of all of it.

Hope you all got some rest, some good food, and time with those you love over this past weekend. After all, that’s what our labor is really for, isn’t it? So we can have time with those we love and be proud of the work we do that allows us to live our best lives? I know I’m incredibly proud of you, my colleagues, who have gone above and beyond during this time of COVID. Thank you to the teachers, researchers, librarians, and GEs who gave our students something meaningful in a difficult time. Thank you to the staff and other workers across campus who labored under hazardous conditions to make our work possible. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us, Staff and EC, or me directly.

In Solidarity,

Avinnash P. Tiwari, President UAUO