OU professors and staff seeking stronger response to pandemic from administrators

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – A group of professors and staff at the University of Oklahoma are demanding a discussion and a strong response to the pandemic from the administration.

In October, the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors wrote a declaration with a list of solutions and sent it to the administration. Two months later, they are publicizing that the university has not responded.

On Tuesday, Michael Givel, a political science professor, said the group’s membership has reached about 70 people, doubling since October.

The letter they wrote includes more enforcement of OU’s “Safe and Resilient” policies, as well as Norman ordinances regarding social distancing and improving how cases are reported on campus. They also take issue with the requirement to work in-person for many staff and faculty members who don’t fit in the at-risk category.

“Working in what would likely be or is unsafe work conditions, hazardous work conditions,” said Professor Givel, “and that’s particularly people who are on the front line who do things like cafeteria work and janitorial work and so forth. Adjunct instructors are particularly affected by this.”

The full letter is as follows:

OU responded to KFOR’s request for an interview with a statement, saying in part, “The university is working closely with the Faculty and Staff Senate Executive Committees, the elected representative groups for the OU employee community, communicating and consulting with these bodies on a regular basis.”

The full statement is as follows:

“As has been the case since the onset of the pandemic, OU continues to prioritize the safety, health, and welfare of all of its community members. In doing so, the university is working closely with the Faculty and Staff Senate Executive Committees, the elected representative groups for the OU employee community, communicating and consulting with these bodies on a regular basis and as improvements and modifications are made to existing safety measures.

The university has implemented a number of successful mitigation efforts and is pleased with the relatively low positivity rate of on-campus students and the downward trend OU researchers have found in wastewater analysis at OU Housing facilities. Because of the tireless efforts of our faculty and staff and the diligence of our students, to date, there have been no known positive cases as a result of transmission in an OU classroom or in an OU clinical setting between patients and providers.

Importantly, extensive flexibility options to faculty and staff have been developed, meeting all formal requests for flexible teaching modifications and encouraging extensive telecommuting work where possible. The university recently surveyed faculty and students on preferred instructional modalities for the spring semester, and with those responses announced modifications to the Norman campus spring 2021 academic calendar.

In coordination with the official representative bodies, substantial effort has been made to be mindful of the entire community and to balance the myriad interests and desires of its employees and students, all while placing the community’s safety first.”

UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA

KFOR asked whether this means the administration does not intend to meet with the OU AAUP as requested, but OU has not responded.

Professor Givel insists the OU AAUP and the faculty and staff it represents deserve a conversation, one he said should have been held before now. He said historically, professors have had a considerable say in the venue and type of instruction done in a classroom.

This year, he feels they were left out of an important discussion.

“None of that happened,” Professor Givel said. “Instead, there was a requirement from above, above meaning the central administration, with very little input from anybody.”

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