By: J. Ellis-
During the first week of classes, the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation UO chapter took to social media to amplify the concerns of its members about the university’s lack of effective COVID-19 precautions. A series of Twitter threads posted by @GTFF_3544 contain screenshots with anonymous tips and confessions of graduate employees submitted via Instagram. There is a common theme in these messages, all express concern about cramped classrooms and lecture halls lacking HEPA filter ventilation, openable windows, and students and professors not complying with mask mandates.
One GE wrote, “After two days of class on campus, it is clear that there are no consistent guidelines being followed or reinforced. Each classroom and professor had a different protocol or preference on how to deal with covid [sic]; some seemed to be taking proper precautions while others made no attempt. I don’t necessarily blame the professors, but I do believe that everyone should be following the same (safe) protocol. Professors are allowed to teach with masks off, which makes me extremely uncomfortable, and there is clearly no social distancing in the classrooms.”
The university approved for classes to be held at pre-COVID capacities in the spring of 2021. According to the president of GTFF, Miche Dreiling, both the GTFF and the faculty union have raised concerns about this decision for months, and so far their concerns have been validated by current classroom conditions. According to the reports, GEs are being exposed to 140 to 400 student lectures. This is too large a class size to allow for social distancing. It is too soon to tell what impact these class sizes will have on COVID cases on campus, but the student/worker perspective compared with the administration’s on back to school safety protocols illustrates a clear divide between valuing precautions and profit.
The GTFF is working with graduate educators and is actively corresponding with administration to advocate for better policies for mitigating COVID-19 and the return to campus. The GTFF established a committee overseeing COVID concerns amongst other concerns for GE health and safety, who have communicated a set of demands to the university that will work to guarantee the proper precautions necessary to host classes on campus:
Proper on-campus protection
Sufficient HEPA filters in every classroom, office, & lab
Only holding classes in rooms with sufficient ventilation
N95s for every student and how to wear them (they already have this and would require just expanding it)
Removal of the philosophical exemption
Remote for those who need it
Large (50+) classes need to be remote
People who have medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate and people who share a household with a person who can’t get the vaccine need the option of going remote
System for GEs to indicate that they need to work remotely
Options for students exposed so they aren’t incentivized to come to class sick
Options for students who need to take time out of class due to illness, that enable them to be successful in the class
Ensuring that the extra labor need to support such students does not lead to GE overwork
Grading policies that don’t punish students for taking time off due to illness
Consistent contact tracing
Stable definition of “contact”
UO needs a contact tracing app like OSU’s
The university’s response to these requests is another example of its continual efforts to placate its student body in an effort to exploit higher education and generate profit despite the lackluster quality of this education in a pandemic. The administration issues band-aid statements to give the appearance that it is invested in student concerns, but its actions often contradict its promises to undergraduates, graduates, and faculty.
In President Dreiling’s words, “At the end of the day, no student, no worker, no instructor…should have to work or go to school in an environment that they feel is unsafe. It’s very clear this week that many students, workers, and instructors feel unsafe in the environment…If you are going to class and you don’t feel safe, you’re not the only one. We as students and as workers have power together. During these times of collective trauma, we’re the only ones who are going to look out for one another. The administrators don’t have to be in the classroom sitting elbow-to-elbow. I don’t know another GE or undergraduate student who is more worried about the profit margin than the health and wellbeing of their classmates…The way forward is together.”