UIC United Faculty, Summer 2020
Individual Determination of Safe Working Conditions
We, the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago, are united in our agreement on effective and safe teaching policies during the COVID-19 crisis for the upcoming academic year. We demand the right for faculty members to make their own risk assessment decisions about returning to campus for the Fall 2020 semester.
The administration has indicated that it will only exempt faculty from teaching in person if faculty can claim their own medical issues would put them at risk on campus. This policy ignores the possibility of exemptions based, for example, on a high-risk family member, a high-risk commute, or the need to pivot quickly to at-home remote learning for school age children.
It is our position that individual faculty members themselves are the only ones able to judge their wider risk-context, and UIC should follow many other institutions, including neighboring University of Chicago, in this matter. The administration trusts UIC students to assess risks and make decisions on an individual basis; it follows that faculty should be given the same autonomy. It is unethical and unconscionable that the administration would knowingly attempt to require individual faculty members to take on serious risks against their own good judgment.
We, the undersigned faculty, are united in agreement that the administration’s proposed policies, discussed above, are not acceptable. We are committed to supporting, in the strongest terms, any faculty who refuse to follow these policies in order to safeguard their health and that of their students and to teach in the way they deem most effective. We demand a policy that gives faculty autonomy at the time we need it the most.
Rationales & Faculty Testimonials
Faculty members have household members and other close contacts who are at high for Covid-19
Jeff Gore, Senior Lecturer, Department of English: “I need the option to teach remotely based on the health of a family member. In 2017, my wife had a heart transplant after a year of life-threatening heart attacks. She’s healthy now, but her anti-rejection medicine has severely compromised her immune system. Luckily, she is on sabbatical during the 2020-21 academic year and can avoid indoor, public gatherings. Although I am personally in good health – and have no diagnosable comorbid conditions that would make me especially vulnerable to COVID-19 – anyone can be an asymptomatic carrier. Therefore, it is important that I also have the option to avoid indoor, public environments to help maintain her health.”
Faculty members have childcare responsibilities, and many schools will operate remotely in the fall
Julienne Rutherford, Associate Professor, Department of Human Development Nursing Science: “I need the option to teach remotely because I parent a rising fourth grader whose public elementary school just announced its plan for 100% remote education this fall. I am not able financially to hire a tutor or full time childcare as I teach on campus. I am also concerned about an elevated risk of exposure due to College of Nursing students and colleagues who are working in high risk clinical settings. I am indebted to their essential work but this is beyond the risk I would take personally and I am not being given the option to mitigate it.”
Faculty members have household members who work in high-risk settings
James Drown, Senior Lecturer, Department of English: “I need the option to teach remotely because I don’t want to endanger others on campus, including students and coworkers. My spouse is a nurse at a local hospital, and thus far during the pandemic he has had three of his coworkers die from Covid 19. Because we know that there is always a possibility that we are carriers, and research shows that individuals spread the disease even when they are asymptomatic, we severely limit our contact with others. Dog walking is done with a mask, social distancing, and at hours when most people are asleep (4:30am is the main walk). Groceries are purchased in bulk biweekly during early morning hours when few people are around while wearing N-95 masks and our socializing has been done over Facetime and Zoom. If we are unwilling to jeopardize strangers, why would I want to take a risk on students and coworkers?”