Dear President Morehead,
I write to you today as someone with no confidence in your leadership. Be assured that while I’m just a lowly grad student, I speak for many other folks employed by the University of Georgia and in the broader Athens community. I’ll keep my comments brief — not because I have little to say, but because I want to make sure you and others can read this before public health experts “change” their guidance.
First, let me start by praising your bravery in teaching your one-hour, 12-student First Year Odyssey seminar. It’s truly a comfort to my fellow teaching assistants who are instructing 50 or more students in three-hour courses with breakouts to know that you’re joining us in the trenches.
Now that we’ve gotten sarcastic ego-stroking out of the way, let’s get started. We’re back on campus. Despite consistent warnings and protests from students and faculty, here we are. Even before we started, it was clear you had lost control of the situation. Hundreds of sorority hopefuls filled Tate Student Center “for a quick moment.” Maskless students tossed frisbees and footballs on Myers Quad. And students tipsy on freedom and booze packed some downtown bars.
Nevertheless, these pesky PR snafus were to be expected. And we cannot blame students for doing exactly what you repeatedly promised them over the summer: the college experience. At the end of the day, everything that happens is on you.
On Aug. 20, you told us that we must all “do our part to protect our UGA community from the spread of COVID-19.” Though you seem to think otherwise, the parts UGA community members are meant to play are not equal. It is entirely reasonable to expect a university president who makes nearly $1,000,000 a year to play a larger role than a service/maintenance worker making less than $30,000 or a freshman experiencing their first taste of independence.
That we’re even on campus shows that you’ve clearly failed on your part. An actual leader would have based plans on community data rather than arbitrary decisions made by the Board of Regents in April. At least an actual leader would have adapted these plans as cases throughout the state continued to rise, rather than praise and kowtow to the “leadership” of those Regents after it took weeks of constant pleading for them to do the bare minimum of requiring masks. Lastly, a leader who bases their decisions on data would not continue to defer to Regents when asked what will cause a pivot to online.
And that pivot will happen. Just look around. The question now is what will you do next? Will you change tack and actually lead, or will you continue to pass the buck? Will you take responsibility, or will you join your colleagues in throwing students under the bus?
Despite your insistence that health and safety are your first priority, your justifications for reopening have been financial. We must collect student fees to save jobs, you say. As one of many folks in the United Campus Workers of Georgia who have been calling for exactly that – let’s not forget hazard pay, by the way – it’s good to hear you care so much.
Again, we will pivot. So how will you continue to fight for people’s jobs? Will you be as adamant in fighting for guaranteed pay as you have in praising your inadequate plans? Will you still insist that no third parties influence your decisions when banks call for interest payments, or will these costs be more sacred than the wages of the people who form the foundation of the university? Moreover, will you break with the Board of Regents if the circumstances call for it? Instead of threatening layoffs, will you support a "chop from the top" and put your money where your mouth is? When it comes down to it, will you be Dawg Strong?
Bryant K. Barnes