Below is a letter submitted by the Sewanee chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to the administration of the University of the South, requesting modifications to existing COVID-19 protocols. It is followed by a reply from Senior Vice President and Provost Dr. Nancy Berner, published with permission.
In the September 6th Joint Faculties Meeting, the Vice Chancellor and the Provost both indicated their willingness to seek compromise on our Covid-19 protocols. We appreciate that willingness, and their patience in listening to, and trying to address, the concerns of faculties. On September 10, the Sewanee chapter of the AAUP met and discussed what additional or modified Covid protocols would substantially improve both the safety of the community and the morale of the faculty. Though budget issues received only passing mention in the Joint Faculties Meeting, we are keenly aware of minimizing costs, including labor costs. We are particularly cognizant of the exceptional work of Sewanee staff members over the last year, and seek to minimize any additional labor. We were unanimous that these requests be brought to the consideration of the Vice Chancellor and those involved in our Covid response.
These are our requests; many are based on the response of Kenyon, an institution similar to Sewanee in size, resources, and rural environment.
- Quarantine space (near/on-campus for symptomatic students, with internet access). We ask that students who can quarantine at home do so, but we recognize that this isn’t possible for all. We do not expect asymptomatic vaccinated students to quarantine, as with masking, it seems like the science says that transmission rates are very low. While we understand that we are moving from a Covid-prevention to a Covid-mitigation strategy, this step would significantly reduce spread at reasonable cost, and prevent college students, including immuno-compromised college students, from directly sharing space with their symptomatic roommates, or require a segregation of the immuno-compromised population in a separate dorm, where any outbreak could be deadly.
- The ability to apply for long-term teaching modality flexibility, or to move quickly to remote instruction if a childcare provider or household member’s employer has more stringent quarantine guidelines. The continuation of in-person instruction is a desideratum for all involved. However, just as students have an opportunity to apply for an accommodation that can grant access to remote instruction, we ask that faculty also have a similar method. We envision this primarily for immuno-compromised faculty, faculty medically unable to be vaccinated, or faculty with immuno-compromised family members living in their home. We also ask that it be clarified that notification of chairs (and consequent notification of the Dean) is adequate for emergency moves to remote instruction, as it appeared less clear in the new guidelines.
- A Covid team that includes medical and public health personnel, the membership of which can be easily found online. We ask that decisions about public health be made in constant consultation with medical and public health experts. We also ask that this team provide a list of symptoms by which we can easily define what counts as “symptomatic” for the purposes of testing and quarantine.
- Test accessibility to symptomatic students at least 6 days a week. In the email of September 9, 2021, Provost Berner wrote that “Students know that if they are symptomatic they can go to University Health Services (UHS) for a COVID-19 test.” However, we have heard numerous reports from students that, despite symptoms, UHS has directed students to CVS for testing. We worry that this creates inequity for those without their own transportation, or puts fellow students at risk if they drive them.
From the current scale of Covid cases on campus, we would anticipate that a focus on only symptomatic cases would require greatly less expense and staffing than the model in which all students receiving a positive test must quarantine; we would encourage symptomatic students who can travel home to do so, and we would anticipate that the number of symptomatic students would decline as the campus nears a 100% vaccination rate. The University of the South has acquired quarantine space for influenza-infected students in the past, and we see that as a model and a precedent for this practice with an endemic disease. Having a quarantine space could also reduce the number of symptomatic students attending events (like parties) in which large numbers of students are unmasked and in close proximity, and where immuno-compromised students are less able to protect themselves. From our research, the maintenance of on- or near-campus quarantine facilities for symptomatic students is common in SLACs in the United States, including Kenyon, Millsaps, Rhodes, and Colby.
We again thank you for signalling an openness to compromise and collaboration. In the spirit of Ecce Quam Bonum, we look forward to your reply.
American Association of University Professors
University of the South (Sewanee) chapter
Thank you for your letter dated Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.
In addition to this letter, we have received questions and requests from individuals and through groups such as the Joint Faculties, Employee Advisory Committee, and the College student government organizations. We have compiled the questions, provided answers to many, and are in the process of responding to the remaining questions and considering the requests. We are providing responses in the form of FAQs and are making them available to all applicable audiences.
We appreciate everyone’s concern as well as their patience.
Dr. Nancy J. Berner
Senior Vice President and Provost