Professors, staff plan to protest OU’s in-person class plan

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – Students at the University of Oklahoma will be moving back to campus in a matter of days, but the prospect of thousands of students on campus during the pandemic is worrying some professors.

When the coronavirus pandemic spread to Oklahoma in March, the University of Oklahoma decided to close its campus and moved to online classes for the remainder of the semester.

When the semester ended, many people were wondering what the future would look like when it came to the fall.

In April, OU Interim President Joseph Harroz, Jr. announced that in-person instruction would return in the fall.

“After careful deliberation, our intention is to return to in-person educational operations on all three campuses by this fall, offering traditional instruction and residential life. We are doing everything we can to make that realistic and safe. We are acutely aware of the certain challenges COVID-19 will present as we pursue this goal and are planning to address the issues proactively and creatively,” Harroz said in the letter. “We are prepared to adapt instructional and housing models as appropriate to protect our community and still offer the life-changing in-person OU experience. Flexibility will be a guiding principle as we navigate the coming months, and we will ensure that our students, faculty, and staff are presented with appropriate options to return to our campuses, keeping their safety top of mind.”

Two months later, OU officials announced that the university would be adopting a mask policy, requiring all students, faculty, staff, and visitors to wear facial coverings on campus.

“In classrooms and common spaces of the university, we will fully expect students to wear masks anytime they are in those facilities,” OU’s Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said.

As students prepare to head back to class on Aug. 24, the university has made a few modifications in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Before returning to campus, all employees and students will be required to complete a screening form. Also, officials with OU announced that students who will be moving into OU housing on the Norman campus will be required to be tested for COVID-19 prior to arriving on campus.

Courses with more than 40 students will be held online and courses with a smaller class size will be able to use the larger classrooms to stay under capacity.

To learn more about the changes, visit OU’s Safe and Resilient website.

Although some changes have been made, many students and faculty members are still concerned about the dangers of COVID-19.

Recently, a petition was created to urge university officials to adjust the “Safe and Resilient” plan due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma.

Now, it seems OU professors and staff members will be protesting the current reopening plan.

On Aug. 10, educators plan to protest on the Evans Hall Lawn beginning at 12 p.m. with a drive-thru option through the North Oval.

Organizers say they are demanding:

  • 100% virtual classrooms for the fall
  • No more layoffs
  • Time and a half for essential staff
  • No medical disclosure
  • Chop from the top.

Organizers say masks are required for those attending the ‘Save Our Staff’ protest.

KFOR reached out to the University of Oklahoma and received the following statement:

“This is an anxiety-ridden time for all, including our University community. Since the beginning of the pandemic, OU has made safety its top priority. The University was among the first in the region to go online after spring break; mandated masks before any city in Oklahoma; and is a national leader in on-campus safe-return preparations, investing millions of dollars in such measures. All actions and decisions taken are based upon science and with the primary guidance of our OU Chief COVID Officer, Dr. Dale Bratzler.  

Going immediately and fully online has very real implications. Importantly, the power of the OU degree is greatest when delivered in-person. We exist for our students and many would not be able to complete their degrees without in-person classes. Further, going fully online would have a major impact on OU staff, particularly those with direct in-person, student-facing responsibilities. All OU full-time employees were retained after spring break, but this would no longer be financially sustainable if OU were to extend fully online through the fall semester. While President Harroz has indicated that those in executive roles and the highest-paid positions would be among the first to take pay cuts, this would not be enough to avoid necessary furloughs and layoffs for those whose positions are not necessary in an online-only environment. 

Importantly, over the past several weeks, OU reached out to all faculty and staff and asked if they felt they needed to work away from campus this semester. For faculty, 97% of such requests were granted and the remaining 3% are being worked on. For staff, because of the extensive use of telecommuting, there have been only seven requests that weren’t granted, as such work simply required them to be in-person. Finally, University leaders are also actively working to produce solutions and resources for working parents who find themselves challenged with working full-time and bearing the responsibility of child care and/or virtual learning for their school-age children.  

Common sense dictates that there are no guarantees, and there might come a time when the virus spreads to the point that the University has no other choice but to go fully online. When that time comes, OU will respond appropriately. Until then, the University will keep campus open as long as it is safe do so.”

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