Stay the Course on Covid? Far from Enough

A medical cotton bud or swab

UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 rejects the University of Arkansas’s newly announced plan to “stay the course” from the last six months, despite an unprecedented crush of active Covid-19 cases in Arkansas — more than 44,000 as of Jan. 6, and climbing. Staying the course amounts to continuing the mask mandate on campus — a mandate that faculty and staff have found nearly impossible to enforce.

Some students openly defied faculty requests to wear masks; others brought food and drink to classrooms as excuses to keep their masks down from their mouths. For many faculty members, the lack of real enforcement tools made any attempt to police the mandate impossible, while wasting valuable teaching time. Furthermore, the university granted a loophole, insisting that a mask was required only if social distancing was not possible. The result was confusion in classrooms, hallways, and buildings such as Mullins Library, which became a virtual mask-free zone to the dismay of many employees.

The University of Arkansas can and must do better:

  • The “where social distancing cannot be maintained” loophole must be removed.
  • More coronavirus testing stations are needed on campus.
  • Masks and disinfectants should be available not merely upon request but stocked in every classroom.
  • More inducements for vaccination should be created.
  • Food and drink be banned from academic buildings, including Mullins Library, except for offices and facilities such as break rooms.
  • More support from administrators and campus police to enforce the masking mandate by removing the non-compliant.
  • Faculty and staff at greatest risk must be allowed — with minimal delays in paperwork — to work remotely until the wave of Covid-19’s omicron variant subsides.

The University of Arkansas this week boasted of its ranking from Newsweek for its online degree programs in the announcement “U of A Ranks 11th in Nation in First Newsweek Survey of Online Students,” yet the administration refused to allow faculty the choice to teach remotely for the fall 2021 semester, frequently citing the specious argument that ours is not a virtual campus.

Yet in the initial throes of the pandemic, the university moved to online learning in March 2020, continuing through May 2021. The University of Arkansas can go virtual and does go virtual — quite well — when virtual learning suits its purposes. Now, the purpose is more urgent than ratings and tuition dollars. The purpose is to keep our campus safe and healthy. And as Newsweek pointed out, the University of Arkansas can do that while still delivering a 5-star education.

New York Times coronavirus chart for Jan. 7, 2022
The New York Times updates its county-by-county Covid statistics several times a week. This is the Jan. 7, 2022, data snapshot.

For immediate release. For information contact Professor Bret Schulte, Local 965 president.

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