We know how incredibly hard everyone is working to prepare for an unpredictable Fall semester, coming as it does on the heels of an equally unpredictable and exhausting Summer semester, and we sincerely thank you for your efforts. In the past few weeks, we have noticed a growing number of policy documents emerging from various Colleges regarding health and safety protocols, required cleaning regimens, and other return to campus procedures and guidelines for UC Faculty, staff, and students. Some of these College level policy documents and guidelines appear to align with UC’s “Return to Campus Guide” (www.uc.edu/publichealth/return-to-campus-guide.html); however, others don’t.
To expect each College to put into place different policies, protocols, and guidelines about critical practices affecting the health and wellbeing of the entire UC campus community is not just inconsistent policymaking on the part of the University, but is also unnecessarily confusing to Faculty, students, and staff members, who are already trying to navigate a difficult, stressful, and constantly changing environment. In truth, UC Faculty, students, and staff travel daily between multiple university buildings regardless of which College those buildings ostensibly belong to.
Despite well-meaning College level efforts at clarity, many unanswered questions remain. For example:
- What will happen if a professor decides the risk of teaching face-to-face is too high and wants to move their classes fully online after the semester has begun?
- How will data about COVID-19 infection rates be communicated to UC faculty, staff, and students?
- Where do students go to get a COVID-19 test? Where do faculty and staff go?
- How will faculty be notified that students in their classes have received a “waiver” to the universal mask policy?
- What is the procedure for proving the need to quarantine—whether student, staff, or faculty member—in the case of possible exposure to COVID-19 from outside UC?
- How should faculty and staff interpret policies with vague or unclear language, e.g., “areas will be cleaned”? Who exactly is doing the cleaning and how is compliance with these policies being managed?
- At what number of infections in a classroom/college/dormitory will the Administration consider closing all in-person interaction in that area?
Going forward, we hope to see UC Administration taking a more direct leadership role in shaping consistent policy on these matters. In the spirit of shared governance, the AAUP-UC is ready to work with all groups affected by these patchwork policy documents, including Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Student Government groups at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the Administration, to create a “Best Practices” document and an FAQ that can address some of the more immediately pressing concerns.
In certain instances since the pandemic began, the Administration has engaged in meaningful shared governance at both the University and College levels through soliciting faculty input and, where necessary, involving faculty in decision-making. Unfortunately, in other instances the Administration is working to enact policies without shared governance; most recently in the form of two proposed mandates—flu vaccinations and a contract-tracing application—that would change working conditions for Faculty.
The June 2020 National AAUP statement, Principles of Academic Governance during the COVID-19 Pandemic, makes clear that:
The COVID-19 pandemic must not become the occasion for administrations or
governing boards to jettison normative principles of academic governance. The
Committee on College and University Governance regards such a course of action
as not only unacceptable but detrimental to both the effective operation and the
welfare of the institution. During this challenging time, the committee calls upon
administrations and governing boards, in demonstrated commitment to principles
of shared governance, to maintain transparency, engage in ‘joint effort,’ and honor
the faculty’s decision-making responsibility for academic and faculty personnel
matters as the most effective means of weathering the current crisis.
At the University of Cincinnati and other universities where faculty have formed strong unions, these shared governance rights are not just aspirational—they are effectively safeguarded by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
However well-intentioned they are, the processes by which the Administration adopted its policy purporting to mandate flu vaccinations for everyone (see UC Provost email, “Return to Campus: What You Need to Know,” August 6, 2020), and their less publicized effort to mandate that everyone install a contact-tracing application on their personal devices do not pass muster under either principles of shared governance or requirements for collective bargaining.
According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, mandatory vaccinations would be a subject over which a public employer in Ohio would have to bargain with the union.1 Even with a vaccination requirement, an employer in Ohio must provide an “opt out” option for limited medical or non-medical reasons. UC’s new policy does not appear to provide that.
The AAUP-UC Chapter strongly encourages Faculty to take every step possible to maintain their own health and protect the health of everyone in the UC community. That could entail appropriate vaccinations, such as the seasonal flu vaccine, so as not to risk a weakened immune system during the pandemic. However, that is a decision best made between Faculty and their individual healthcare providers.
Similarly, UC’s effort to mandate that everyone install a contact-tracing app on their personal devices, while well-intentioned, raises significant privacy concerns (including HIPAA, the Ohio Constitution, and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution). Once more, making installation of the application mandatory would constitute a change in working conditions that cannot be imposed without following Ohio’s laws on collective bargaining.
On both matters, it is the professional opinion of the AAUP that these policies amount to changes in the terms and conditions of Bargaining Unit Faculty Members’ employment. As such, they cannot be implemented without bargaining with the various employee unions at the University.
To be clear, the Administration can recommend that everyone protects their physical health with appropriate vaccinations and utilizes technology to help us all learn how COVID-19 spreads so that we can more effectively limit that spread. Likewise the AAUP-UC also encourages Faculty, in consultation with your health care professionals, to do the same, and stands ready to work together with the Administration to find solutions that respect the individual rights of UC Faculty as well as our collective bargaining rights under Ohio law.
As we have watched our country face the COVID-19 pandemic these past seven months, we have seen that fifty separate, state-level responses cannot make up for the lack of a unified, effective national strategy. Likewise, the entire UC community will benefit from coordination and leadership that gets everyone on the same page, rather than having a patchwork of College or academic unit level responses that are inconsistent and confusing.
As always, AAUP-UC pledges to continue working to ensure that Faculty have a strong voice in the policymaking processes that affect our working conditions and our well-being and will remain vigilant to ensure shared governance rights are protected.
AAUP-UC Executive Council