Let’s Get Ahead on Protocols

Jan. 10, 2022, op-ed version of our statement “Stay the Course on Covid? Far from Enough

A medical cotton bud or swab

Should the University of Arkansas just “stay the course”? Its union, UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965, rejects the leadership’s plan, announced Jan. 6, to “stay the course” from the last six months of 2021 for the first part of the new year. Their plan is despite a crush of active covid-19 cases in Arkansas — more than 44,000 as of Jan. 6, yet climbing as preK-12 and post-secondary schools reopen for spring semester.

The masking and social-distancing rules for students and employees that began mid-June 2021 proved to be insufficient. That they have been essentially unenforced demonstrates at best misplaced priorities.

The Jan. 6 announcement from Interim Chancellor Charles Robinson, Interim Provost Terry Martin and UAPD Capt. for Emergency Management Matt Mills acknowledges that other campuses in Arkansas are either delaying the resumption of classes or teaching online initially, according to a Jan. 6 Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article.

The statement details how UA will be “staying the course” of fall semester including (1) in-person instruction beginning as scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 18, (2) an indoor masking mandate unless a minimum of 6 feet between individuals is maintained, and (3) to “strongly encourage” a full course of vaccinations. The university will continue a policy of 10 days of isolation or quarantine for infected individuals.

“Strongly encouraged” isn’t getting the job done.

While the UA mandates masks on the Fayetteville campus, the faculty and staff have found enforcement to be nearly impossible. 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 6-foot 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 indoor mask mandate should be made absolute, eliminating the ‘where social distancing can’t be maintained’ wiggle room,” one professor said. Many students seem to interpret this to mean they have to wear their masks in classrooms but nowhere else indoors. So one encounters unmasked snifflers and heavy breathers in restrooms, on crowded stairways and elsewhere.”

The University of Arkansas can and must do better. As a vaccination mandate continues to be considered unviable for the campus, other measures up to that point must be enacted.

  • 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.
  • Ban food and drink 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 infections subside.

The University of Arkansas boasted Jan. 6 of its 11th-in-the-nation ranking from Newsweek for its online degree programs, yet the administration refused to allow faculty the choice to teach remotely for the fall 2021 semester, frequently citing the 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 priority is to keep our campus safe and healthy. As Newsweek pointed out, the University of Arkansas can do that while still delivering a 5-star education.


Bret Schulte is president and Ben Pollock secretary of UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965. Schulte is an associate professor and Pollock a web manager on campus.

Stay the Course on Covid? Far from Enough

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.

Razorbash a Success for Union

Hundreds of students took the lunch break on the third day of classes to walk through Razorbash 2021, and Local 965 with officials of the Arkansas Education Association were on hand to greet them.

The University of Arkansas hosts Razorbash early every fall on the commons between the Arkansas Union and Mullins Library. It is an “information fair for students to engage with local businesses, national chains and non-profit organizations throughout Northwest Arkansas,” according to the Office of Student Activities.

Running the booth for Local 965 were President Bret Schulte, Secretary Ben Pollock and at-large board members Patrick Williams, Chad Kieffer and Ryan Gliszinski. Joining in from Little Rock were Carol Fleming, AEA president, and Karla Carpenter, AEA manager of organizing & field services, and from Springdale was Renee Johnson, AEA UniServ director.

Besides explaining the advantages of AEA membership to UA faculty and staff members who dropped by, undergraduate education majors and graduate students interested in careers that may include K-12 education learned about the benefits of the Student AEA.

Our table likely gathered more interest than previous years because of more colorful display banners from both the 965 and AEA and even the benefit of shade from the canopy bought that hot August morning by Karla.

Table reserved sign at the 2021 Razorbash
The table-reserved sign at the 2021 Razorbash

A Choice to Work Remotely

Resolution on Allowing University of Arkansas Employees the Choice to Work Remotely

Whereas, the Covid-19 global pandemic has killed at least 6,704 Arkansans, including 400 in Washington County, since the late winter of 2020 (Tracking Coronavirus in Arkansas: Latest Map and Case Count,” The New York Times, link updates periodically);

Whereas, Covid-19 has infected at least 436,000 Arkansans, including more than 38,000 in Washington County (ibid.);

Whereas, in the week starting August 15, more Arkansans were in the hospital than at any time since the pandemic began (ibid.);

Whereas, the Delta Variant of Covid-19 that is the dominant variant in Arkansas releases 1260 times more viral particles than earlier variants (Northwest Arkansas Health Officials Weigh In on Breakthrough Cases of Covid-19,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aug. 15, 2021);

Whereas, “breakthrough infections” among fully vaccinated account for 15% of the cases in Arkansas (ibid.); 

Whereas, on July 30, 2021, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson declared “a statewide state of disaster emergency related to public health, resulting from the catastrophic statewide impact of the Delta Variant of COVID-19 on the healthcare system of Arkansas” (Executive Order to Declare a Statewide Public Health Emergency for the Purpose of Meeting and Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19, 21-14, July 29, 2021, Office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson);

Whereas, the University of Arkansas is prohibited from requiring students and employees to receive one of the three readily available and safe Covid-19 vaccines, even though vaccines have been required in the past (most recently MMR in the winter of 2019-2020) and Governor Hutchinson has declared that widespread vaccination is the best way to mitigate the effects of Covid-19; 

Whereas, University of Arkansas faculty and staff have demonstrated the ability to advance the university’s primary missions of research and education while working remotely;

Whereas, certain employees of the University of Arkansas fall into high-risk mortality categories if they become infected with Covid-19;

Whereas, certain employees are the primary caregivers of children under 12, who are ineligible for vaccinations, and other high-risk groups;

Whereas, the University of Arkansas’s efforts to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 on campus have been inadequate: 

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that, since the University of Arkansas has not taken common-sense steps to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 on campus and protect its employees, UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 supports employee choice in continuing to work remotely — be they faculty or staff — out of overwhelming concern for their personal well-being;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the university require mandatory Covid-19 testing for students who take part in labs, studios or seminars that last longer 120 minutes per session. 

This resolution was approved at the Aug. 19, 2021, general membership meeting of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965. Members present in a quorum voted unanimously for the topic points, then compiled by Local officers.

Local Urges Campus to Lead on Covid Protocols

JULY 26, 2021 — UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 is calling for the campus community to practice and even enforce the twin responsibilities of vaccination and masking to fight the coronavirus pandemic through the 2021-22 academic term. As the Arkansas Legislature and governor have hobbled the ability of University of Arkansas administration and employees to advance both of these scientifically verified protocols, it calls on the leadership and individuals on the Fayetteville flagship campus to do what it takes to save lives.

The board of Local 965 recommends three collective actions to protect its members and indeed all UA colleagues, as well as the students whom they serve. These augment its stance on campus pandemic policies in June 2020.

The union thus actively opposes both the newly passed Arkansas Act 1002 preventing state and local governments including public education entities from mandating the wearing of masks and the newly passed Arkansas Act 1030 prohibiting “vaccine passports” being required by a state or local government entity or official for “travel, education or services.” Both laws unreasonably increase health risks to UA employees and students.

Attorney Thomas A. Mars of Rogers has announced plans to sue the state of Arkansas over Act 1002 on requiring masking. The plaintiffs would be all K-12 parents whose children attend public schools in Arkansas.

The 965 board recommends that the UA administration join the lawsuit either as co-plaintiff or through an amicus curiae, friend of the court brief, on behalf of its workers and students.

Second, the Local 965 board recommends Pat Walker Health Center and related UA entities more aggressively promote obtaining Covid vaccinations and using masks appropriately among students and employees. They can start with ignoring the duplicative element of Act 1002, that all advisories for the prevention of Covid-19 “shall provide notice that the recommendation is not mandatory.” The redundancy taints whatever neutrality is in the law in favor of keeping more people vulnerable.

Third, neither Act 1002 nor 1030 includes provisions for felony or misdemeanor criminal or civil penalties for entities or employees in positions of responsibility to insist on face coverings or vaccine documentation of anyone within their realms. These laws, however, may refer implicitly to state prosecutorial standards. The union board supports any member and endorses any other UA worker who chooses to engage in Civil Resistance by mandating those in their realm wear face coverings properly in indoor spaces or crowded outdoor spaces on campus.

This instance of Civil Resistance would be where a staff or faculty member who uses an office to feel no reluctance to post signage or otherwise state that the unmasked are not welcome there. A faculty member when presiding in a classroom should have the liberty to bar the unmasked. Staff members who are not clerical, for example employed in Facilities Management, should be provided plenty of personal protective equipment and not only taught but encouraged to use PPE.

The Local board notes the protocols set up by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with “Your Guide to Masks” and “Vaccines for Covid-19,” the Arkansas Department of Health, and the university’s Pat Walker Health Center. Due to two factors, these policies and best practices do not go far enough to ensure the welfare of as many workers and students as possible.

The first is that none of these protocols quite addresses the increasing danger of Covid mutations, currently the Delta. Local 965 therefore worries about the next coronavirus-2019 variants to saturate the United States, starting presumably with the Epsilon

The other issue is the inherent and unnecessary risk of trusting those who claim to have been vaccinated, not to mention those who do not say or proclaim refusal to be vaccinated. The precaution here is not the vax record card or even a tattoo but rather to assume that any stranger, relative, acquaintance or friend can be a Covid carrier. Indeed, the Delta variant shows that fully vaccinated people can be infected with few or no symptoms yet be contagious. The risk of fatality or long Covid is too heavy a burden to place on the Office of Student Standards and Conduct. Collective action is the recourse.

We mustn’t neglect mentioning the third responsibility: Wash your hands. Often.

For immediate release
For information contact
From Arkansas965.org

Illustration of a hygienic face mask