12 Jan Provost Consultation on COVID Measures
- Ongoing Consultation: We met again on Tuesday with Prov. Reyes and an extensive administration team including health experts, and plan to have a follow-up meeting early next week on ongoing COVID measures and remote work.
- Return-to-Campus Decisions: Although a final decision and announcement is anticipated next Tuesday, admin expects to return to in-person classes on the 24th. The current 2-week hiatus will serve as a cooldown and observation period after the holiday spread of the Omicron variant.
- On-Campus Testing: Capacity is being expanded significantly, and admin highly encourages people to use on-campus testing given the issues many are experiencing seeking off-campus tests. All workers and students should get tested within 72 hours after returning to campus or provide a negative test to UIC Health. Anyone with a documented positive PCR test is exempted from testing for 90 days.
- Process for Seeking Remote Work Accommodations: As a reminder, current UIC policy allows and encourages unit heads to offer flexible work arrangements to faculty where possible. Accommodations may also be sought through the Office of Access and Equity. Prov. Reyes has committed to reminding unit heads and administrators of this policy. If you have any problems with seeking an accommodation, please let us know immediately.
As we mentioned in our prior communications on remote work and COVID safety decisions, we met with Provost Reyes on Tuesday, sharing many concerns and questions brought to us by our members over the last week. We covered a variety of topics, including decision-making deadlines, consultation arrangements and transparency, safety measures, and ongoing issues with members seeking remote/flexible work accommodations. We are encouraged both by the powerful eloquence of what we’ve heard from our members, and by the new provost’s willingness to listen to those collective concerns.
Decision-Making Timelines and Thresholds
We pressed the administration to clarify the guidelines it is using to make a back-to-campus decision this semester–and to make that decision as soon as possible. Although the current expectation seems to be that in-person classes will resume on the 24th, the final decision will be made and communicated to the UIC community by the Chancellor, likely by next Tuesday, 1/18. This is a compromise to balance the needs of faculty and students to plan for classes the following week, while giving time for health experts to see how dangers relating to the surge in COVID cases is evolving.
There is no single metric the administration is considering as a red-line for keeping classes remote, but we did speak extensively with the primary university health expert advising the administration on infectious disease prevention. They are particularly watching hospital capacity, and strongly emphasizing appropriate masking, meaning at least a 2-ply mask that fits well around your face (see below regarding mask enforcement and other mitigation measures).
Consultation and Transparency
We expect to meet again with the administration before they make a final decision on returning to campus. Moreover, the Provost was receptive to our request to hold a town hall meeting next week to explain that decision and any safety measures being put in place. This of course means that we will continue using your input to formulate the union’s positions for that meeting. We strongly encourage you to send thoughts, questions, or concerns to us at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com. Your input is crucial.
COVID Safety Measures
Aside from the decision to hold classes remotely the first two weeks of the semester, we asked about other safety measures. Given the challenges facing almost anyone seeking to get tested for COVID, we especially advised that on-campus testing capacity be ramped up dramatically for the foreseeable future. In response, the university will increase testing capacity from 3,000 tests-per-day to 8,000 tests-per-day, and will extend weekday hours for testing to 8am-6pm and possibly later if needed in the first days back. Testing will be available in Student Center East, Student Center West, and at a new location in the Forum. The administration also clarified that students and faculty should get tested within 72 hours after returning to campus, with the understanding that off-campus testing access is uneven at best. If you are able to get tested off-campus, you can still upload your test results to the U of I Health system. As a reminder, you must now also upload your booster information in the same system.
Also, additional work has been done on ventilation to test appropriate airflow and to install HEPA filters where natural airflow was found to be inadequate. You can review the ventilation assessments here.
In regards to masking, the administration has advised that if you see problematic behavior in the classroom, you can report it directly to the Office of the Dean of Students to report the problem. The administration also says that it may revise its mask policy depending on potential changes in CDC recommendations relating to the effectiveness of specific kinds of masks with Omicron. The current emphasis is on appropriate masking with at least 2-ply masks that fit well over your face. Gators, bandanas, and single-ply cloth masks are believed to be insufficient barriers to COVID transmission at this time.
Accommodations for Flexible/Remote Work
As an important reminder, university policy gives unit heads the power to offer flexible/remote work accommodations where possible, but also provides for an alternate process through the Office of Access and Equity. The administration agreed to remind Deans and Department Heads of this policy, and clarify responsibilities therein. They also advised us that due to a sudden departure of an OAE staffer, there has been a backlog of accommodation requests. They are aware of the problem and are working to cover outstanding requests ASAP. If you are having problems seeking an accommodation, of course, please let us know at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com.
The provost also indicated that his office would soon be developing guidelines relating to faculty choice to continue with on-line learning for their courses depending on various circumstances—particularly a large number of student absences. We expect to be able to consult on such a policy before its announcement.
Solidarity, and stay safe,
UIC United Faculty
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