The original letter sent to Joseph Fu by Dean Alan Dorsey, Aug. 27, 2021.
Dean Dorsey’s response to my concerns for the community massively understates the gathering grief and rage I feel over the accelerating disaster that the University of Georgia has inflicted on itself, and on our beloved city of Athens. It was all avoidable if proper precautions had been taken at the outset. A simple formula – require masks indoors, and require everyone either to get vaccinated or to get tested regularly – had emerged around the world, and if applied here would have given us a fighting chance for something like a normal semester.
I am requesting that Dean of Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Alan Dorsey allow the latitude to change the modality of instruction to online, in accordance with University System of Georgia rules.
I am sure that you already know the relevant circumstances: wastewater testing shows that SARS-CoV-2 infections in Athens have been growing exponentially for about six weeks. As I write this, the Georgia Medical Facility Patient Census puts the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals in our region at 291, and climbing fast. Incredibly, a home football game is scheduled for Sept. 11, without any public health precautions whatsoever. It is obvious that we must dedensify campus as quickly as possible. Therefore, I am making this request on behalf of all instructional faculty in Franklin College.
I should also acknowledge my personal intentions, which I am compelled to carry out regardless of the Provost’s decision on my request above. The Athens area experienced an acute public health crisis last winter. This was marked by a peak of 319 COVID-19 patients in Region E hospitals on January 11. If current trends continue, we will likely surpass that number this week. Every UGA instructor I know has bent over backwards to comply with USG rules and maintain face-to-face instruction, but the situation is now beyond absurd.
We have no idea what proportion of students are vaccinated. Staff, students and faculty are all at extremely high risk for infection, particularly in classrooms and areas with low mask compliance, and through them the larger Athens community is also at risk. I told my classes last week that we will go online when the census of local COVID-19 patients surpasses 319.
I acknowledge that this unilateral action will be largely symbolic – my own two sections of Math 2270 are a tiny drop in the bucket of all classes at UGA – but surely in a university setting we can all understand that symbolism can have practical consequences. I hope for three main goals.
My first main goal is to encourage my colleagues to institute similar measures on their own authority as classroom instructors. Any directive from the Board of Regents about how we conduct our classrooms relies entirely on our willingness to carry it out.
I understand that my actions might, by the lights of the Board, “constitute grounds for disciplinary action.” This brings me to my second main goal: to try to model as best I can the widely recognized legal imperative of civil disobedience in the face of unjust or inhumane laws.
I am relatively well positioned to take the consequences, being prepared to step away if necessary after 36 years of service to UGA. Still, I aim to represent the needs of the many employees who are less well-off, and find themselves squeezed between their need to make a living on the one hand, and to protect their families’ health on the other.
Some of these employees are my colleagues in the classroom, but UGA’s many low-wage employees face even more acute conditions: for instance, stiffening rents for housing driven by demand from students.
I have also heard reports from workers in the dining halls that UGA has begun outsourcing cleaning jobs to private companies under cover of the pandemic, driving wages down and taking the evidence off of UGA’s books.
This brings me to my third main goal: to model fundamental principles of leadership for UGA’s handsomely-paid administrative cadre, principally President Morehead, Provost Hu, and Vice President Shrivastav — but also, I must add, Dean Dorsey. Just as I ultimately decide how to run my classes, so do they control their own responses to the directives of the USG Board of Regents. It is well past time to defy them, and to put the needs of the many thousands of people who depend on you ahead of their own careers.
Certain spiritual principles that I hold dear tell me that if I suffer for taking responsible actions, I can only benefit in the long term, even if in ways I cannot now see. By the same token, I feel confident also that those who would choose to punish these actions will ultimately undermine themselves.
Joseph H.G. Fu
Professor of Mathematics