Open Letter from Tenured Faculty

We, who are tenured faculty of the University of Georgia, feel compelled by our consciences and our integrity, both personal and professional, to state the following:

The resumption of in-person instruction at the University of Georgia as currently planned is unwise. It is not grounded in evidence nor in the recent experience of other peer universities. Regardless of the precautions taken by the University on campus, both projections and experience suggest that a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 is inevitable unless there is an immediate change in plans for the fall semester.

The evidence is as follows:

Georgia is, as of Aug. 15, 2020, currently the No. 1 state in the U.S. for the highest number of new daily cases per 100,000 population, at 29.9 (Harvard Global Health Institute).

Georgia is, as of Aug. 15, 2020, currently the No. 1 state in the U.S. for the highest percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 victims (Department of Health and Human Services).

158 out of 159 counties in Georgia should be under a shelter-in-place order, as per the Harvard Global Health Institute risk tool.

The experience is as follows:

When state universities have attempted to resume in-person instruction, in states with lower COVID-19 transmission rates than Georgia, outbreaks have occurred:

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (13.8 new daily cases/100K population as of 8/15/20).

Oklahoma State University (17.1 new daily cases/100K population as of 8/15/20).

[Editor’s Note: Data discoverable here by clicking the box for the desired state on the left side of the screen under “Geolocation;” the numbers will show up in the box under “Confirmed Cases” above “Geolocation” and on the right side of the screen next to where the state(s) are listed. The data are continuously updating 7-day running averages; the numbers listed in this petition are accurate as of Aug. 15, 2020.]

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has decided to pivot indefinitely to all-virtual learning as a result of outbreaks on campus that led to over 170 confirmed COVID-19 cases after just one week of in-person instruction.

The projections are as follows:

Dr. John Drake, UGA Distinguished Research Professor and Director, Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases, has simulated the impact of the reopening of UGA on the number of cases of COVID-19. His results indicate that hundreds of students will arrive on campus who are actively infectious.

Furthermore, Dr. Drake’s results indicate that, with or without precautions being taken on campus, the virus will spread to tens of thousands of UGA students, staff, and faculty within two months or less of the reopening. This is because the amount of time students spend on the UGA campus in classrooms is a small fraction of the time students spend with each other, particularly off-campus.

In short, the resumption of in-person instruction at UGA as planned is unwise and misaligned with evidence-based COVID-19 health guidelines. Depending on the ability and will of leadership to end this course of action, sooner rather than later, in-person instruction and the presence of students in Athens is likely to lead to hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of COVID-19 victims, with collateral health impacts on Athens-Clarke County, its hospitals and the region at large.

Cardinal Newman famously stated, “A university is… an Alma Mater, knowing her children one by one, not a factory, or a mint, or a treadmill.”

A great university does not follow; it leads. And when the safety of its own, and those around it, are threatened, a great university learns from the mistakes of others and carves a new and better path based on science and truth. We urge the University Council to hold the UGA administration to the resolution approved last week, and to revisit the failed resolution presented by the Franklin College and Mary Frances Early College of Education Faculty Senates.

May the University of Georgia lead in this time of crisis, and do right by its students, staff and faculty.

[Editor's Note: The list of tenured and nontenured signers has grown since 6:45 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2020; access it here, and sign the petition here.]

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(11) comments

sale1

For myself, I’m attempting to abide by the rules, but I end up teaching in a classroom that’s nearly empty or literally empty of students, and I know it’s the same for some of the other faculty members around me. And yet we’re not allowed to move online, and I’m forced to use subpar equipment in the classroom, and both the in-person and remote students end up getting a subpar educational experience.

Please don’t think that forcing the hand of the instructors will universally result in a better educational experience. It’s just not true.

southgagirl

Thank you MakeAmericaGRRReatAgain!!! There are a large group of us parents that are feel exactly what you have expressed. I'm surprised The Red and Black posted your comments. Last week the CDC reported 455 US COVID related deaths for week ending 8/15. 3,096 people died that same week from accidents yet we still drive a vehicle. I understand that this disease is horrible and people have suffered and died. I understand that we still need to take precautions. But we've got to move forward. We can't continue to live in this hole for the less than 1% that are at risk. We need you educators to step up, figure this out, get back to in class instruction. Take Vitamin C, D, and Zine. Drink water. Eat healthy. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Online instruction and pre-recorded lectures are not acceptable any longer. You cannot wait for 0 cases. It will not happen. We cannot eliminate all risk. No part of life is immune to it. As I get ready to leave for my second essential job of the day - I'm the one who loads your grocery store on line pick up order into your car, after working at a nursing home, so you don't have to shop with others after working all day from your computers - I ask you to please get back to teaching. The real kind of teaching. The face to face, interactive teaching that I am working 2 jobs to help pay for my daughter's high dollar education.

wjabbe

UGA produced three giant scholars and scientists during the 19th and early 20th centuries but has been moving in the downward direction of “party time” ever since. The late LeConte Brothers John and Joe, both MD’s , John a physicist while Joe was a geologist. They lost everything in the Civil War but in 1868 John was appointed first president and first professor of physics at the newly formed University of California, Berkeley. John LeConte is considered “Father” of the University of California, Berkeley and set the high standards for its greatness in the 20th century. The late Lorenzo Moss, M.D., born at Athens, GA, graduated from UGA in engineering and earned his MD degree at Johns Hopkins. He is one of three people in the world to discover blood groups and should have shared in the Nobel Prize given to Karl Landsteiner for it. Moss was Dean of the Medical School one term, usually a lifetime job, but his was made short because he refused to allow political cronies in Georgia admission to become medical doctors. He had the highest standards. UGA has been going down hill ever since as these comments in this article indicate. Winfield J. Abbe, Ph.D., Physics citizen for 54 years.

Hedor304

It is not clear from the open letter whether faculty can continue to add their names to this petition? -if so can instructions please be provided as an update or in the comments sections? thanks.

sale1

There are a lot more faculty that feel this way, me included. The tenured faculty have the job security to speak up. Also, this letter was distributed in an ad hoc way between faculty, and so a lot of people didn't see it until this article was published. I image a lot of people signed after the list was made public. Will the list be updated? Who knows.

I had class in person yesterday, and less than 20% of my students attended. I haven't spoken to any faculty member that expects us to last more than a month in-person.

Also, there are experts on this list who know what they are talking about. I've looked at the numbers and the projections. It boggles my mind that we have reopened in the manner we have.

existo

I (a library faculty) wasn't aware of this petition at all, but I would have signed it given the chance.

MakeAmericaGRRReatAgain

I imagine there could be anything that you imagine to be true. So tenured faculty has job security, so 1200 of them could sign right now, today, and it still will not make up half the total faculty. Not even a democratic majority. They haven’t signed though, why not? The petition has been signed by at least one faculty member from every department so the false idea that not everyone has heard about it is a little laughable to say the least regardless of distribution method. PS it’s on the internet. I found the link just by googling for it. It’s been shared on social media. People know about it. This wouldn’t garner a majority of support and it hasn’t, and I imagine it won’t. See how that works? Pretty easy to make projections with no evidence which is exactly what this little stunt by smug members of the higher education elitist power structure is. Making guesses at what may or may not happen with the conflict of interest of not having to do the one job you have if it’s “too dangerous”. Sure you can put 8-10years of higher education behind your guess, that’s great for you. The problem is it comes from the bratty, lying schoolchild mentality that the child will “feel“ sick and tell you his “symptoms“ to keep from being forced back to school even thought the data on the thermometer says 98.6. That’s what this is. You have skin in the game, so what are the projections going to say? It’s not that bad? It’s not as prevalent or deadly as we first thought in March? Of course not! Telling the truth, facing reality, means back to work for you! And how hard is it anyway to do that considering you’ve been paid to do that job and the rest of the money went for protection for yourselves (ie plexiglass barriers, sanitizing stations, masks, nightly cleaning)? You’ve already taken the taxpayers money and now you want out? HOPE, Zell Miller, others etc. already shelled out the money to fund your lavish careers. I don’t hear, “Well I’ll take a pay cut to teach online if it keeps me safe” or anything of the sort. You want to stay home and expect the same benefits, the same salary as before, education for children be dammed. All while expecting your drive thru worker and your fire fighters etc to be on the job. It’s utterly laughable, the pomposity, the utter aristocracy that higher education has become. Keep proving that point.

existo

To address your points:

--There is not representation from all departments on the list of signatures, as there are no library faculty listed

--Even if all departments had been represented, that is not equal to every faculty member having had the opportunity to sign before this article's publication

--Googling a petition is easy only if you know it exists

--Not every faculty member is on every form of social media, nor necessarily connected with enough other faculty members to ensure having seen the petition

--You've got two faculty right here in the comments who did not see it

--We, the faculty, never collectively asked for the protections put in place

--Requesting greater protection is not a dismissal of the hard work put into the current protections

--I offered to take a pay cut to ensure staff jobs and was denied this by my boss's boss

--Paycuts should come from the top; after all, our administration should be serving both faculty and staff

I'm sorry that some faculty have given you the impression they feel they are above you or others; and I sense that you--just like we faculty--we left out of the decision-making process. Our voices weren't heard, and it sounds like yours has not been heard for longer, or for issues impacting you. One way to overcome assumptions about another group's intentions is to be in conversation with them; and I know that many of my colleagues would welcome a chance to work with staff (or whatever group you may be a part of) in order to share perspectives and work towards common goals like responsibility of spending taxpayer money, protecting workers, protecting students.

MakeAmericaGRRReatAgain

I imagine you can imagine whatever you want to fit your narrative. So let’s take your statements and show how ridiculous they are. So tenured faculty have job security, so therefore they could all sign today? Still doesn’t mean that a majority of faculty oppose the reopening plan, not even a democratic majority. Why haven’t they signed then? At least one member from each department has signed it, so you think it hasn’t been passed around, that it hasn’t been brought up on department meetings and forums? Get realistic. I found it with Google. It’s on social media. It’s a link. It’s been shared. If tenured faculty wanted to sign they can. Even if they got a majority it doesn’t mean that reopening is a bad idea, it just means that a majority of faculty are too scared/unwilling to do their jobs. You cite a study put together by faculty that have a conflict of interest, in that if the projections say it’s “too dangerous” to go back then the faculty gets to sit at home. It’s like a school child that tells his parents he doesn’t “feel well” because he had a headache yesterday and doesn’t want to go to school, so the parents stick a thermometer in his mouth and it says 98.6. Who do you believe, the lying child with an interest in staying home or the thermometer that says he is fine and it’s time to get back to school? Common sense says back to school! And on top of that I haven’t heard one person offer a pay cut to teach online. Tuition sure didn’t decrease. What are students who moved in supposed to do? Go back home? Do they get housing payments back? Leases refunded? Of course not! But you sure expect that six figure salary. Mostly taxpayer dollars anyway! HOPE, Zell Miller, etc. all that goes into paying your exorbitant compensation and building barriers to protect you (ie plexiglass barriers, sanitizing classrooms nightly, providing masks, hand sanitizer) Now you want to demand we let you teach from home, record lectures at your pace, give students half the education they paid for, we all paid for? Meanwhile you want that restaurant worker making food for you, that public safety worker to call to put out your microwave fire, keep the students from playing music to loud. It’s too dangerous to teach, too dangerous to vote, but never to protest, stage “die-in” protests, protest the post office. Just like the rest of America, it’s time for you to get off the computer and back to work!

sale1

I should add that the 20% attendance in my class was not because of social distancing limitations. The students could have been in person if they wanted to.

I also worked unpaid throughout the summer to help prepare the school for reopening. Preparing student areas to make them safer was needed. I'm not saying we should not have come back in person at all, but we could have been and should have been much more cautious (or maybe more inventive). By not being so, I'm thinking we're going to go the way of Chapel Hill and Michigan State and a growing list of other schools, which only makes things worse.

MakeAmericaGRRReatAgain

Oh goodness gracious. I thought children went to the University to become adults but apparently children run the place. Who really cares about less than 400 tenured faculty in a school that has 1200+ tenured faculty and 2300 faculty total. At that rate under 25% of faculty are signing up to whine about having to do their jobs. In 2015, average salary of a tenured professor was 110,000$ a year. Talk about being lectured by cultural and financial elites! 1% much? Total infections at UGA between March and August was 457. Out of 29,000 undergraduates and probably 40-45,000 students total. 1%. The COVID surveillance revealed 0.38%. Basically the same rate as most other seasonal illnesses like the flu. UGA spent millions on masks and barriers and disinfecting rooms and moving furniture, and all these dissenters can do is sign a letter and stage a “die in” How sad. Oh but one of these elites made up a “study” where they cherry-pick stats that make it seem so scary to just teach. My favorite is when we will go back to the trope about how important children are and how much we love to teach and it’s vital. Except when an illness comes along and then we will check out! So shameful! Forcing kids to wear masks, and I thought masks solved all your problems? Isn’t that the party line? Wear a mask stop the spread? Just grow up and do your jobs like all the other essential workers having to clock in to make your food and dry clean your clothes so you go back to making six figures to whine about a 1% chance of getting a virus that then has a four percent max fatality rate. Hide behind tenure and act as though your in danger, all life will end, we will all die! Ahhhhhh! Expected this behavior out of children not adults, but not surprised every job has 25% of employees that are lazy, ignorant, incompetent and could be let go, but most jobs don’t have tenure and that’s how this is allowed to fester. But there’s no bias in education right?

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