Last Wednesday, Provost Philips sent instructional faculty and graduate employees a message describing a change in the approach to in-person teaching in the fall. Instructional faculty and GEs have been given the option to opt out of in-person teaching in the fall, if they have not done so already. This is great news, and we welcome this new decision by the Provost. We recommend that faculty take the opportunity now to consider the latest available information and decide whether or not they would like to opt out of in-person teaching in the fall.
We have studied the university’s plans for in-person instruction, participated in the UO Employee Safety Reopening Committee, and monitored the evolving situation in Lane County, Oregon, and the nation. Although hundreds of university personnel have worked hard to make in-person instruction as safe as possible, there are many factors beyond any university employee’s control that indicate campus will be less than safe. We therefore cannot recommend in-person teaching for our members—although given the administration’s latest policy change, the choice to teach in person or to opt out will rest with each individual.
The heart of the University’s safety plan is to require face coverings when people are in buildings (unless alone in a space) and to encourage face covering and social distancing otherwise. Despite repeated and consistent examples of people not wearing face coverings and not social distancing, keeping campus safe in fall relies on everyone doing these very things. The Employee Safety Reopen Committee has been told that UO is planning an education campaign involving posters, trainings, and peer pressure that will influence student behavior. Although behavioral change is an important part of any reopening plan in our community, we have doubts that this campaign will be successful, and we believe that COVID-19 will be spread through the student population through off-campus activities. Given that many people with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic and others can mistake a low-grade fever and body aches for a hangover or post-workout soreness, we believe COVID-19 will be on our campus and in the classroom.
For classes that are held in-person, the plan is to have desks spaced far enough apart that students can maintain a six-foot distance. The thought is that, coupled with mask wearing, this will stop the spread of COVID-19. Faculty will either have a face covering, a face shield, or may have a plexiglass partition installed in their classroom.
There is no obvious path forward while we are still experiencing a global pandemic and national health emergency, and we believe each faculty member should weigh for themselves what they think is the best approach for themselves, their students, their families, and their community. If you have been assigned an in-person course, and you want to opt out, please be sure to fill out the survey before August 14. Our conversations with Employee and Labor Relations and the Provost’s Office assure us that faculty will not suffer repercussions for exercising their choice to opt out. If you have concerns, or would like to talk with someone from UA, feel free to respond to this email.