Protesters stage ‘die in’ at OU Board of Regents meeting, rejecting Safe and Resilient reopen plan

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – A group of University of Oklahoma staff, faculty and students protested the OU Board of Regents meeting Tuesday afternoon to voice their concerns and rejection of the university’s Safe and Resilient fall return plan.

Organizer Sarah Warmker is a recent masters graduate, and is working as an instructor.

She said the last minute protest was fueled by faculty, staff, and other Norman community members who have concerns about in-class teaching and 26,000 students returning to the city.

The protesters staged a “die-in,” the theme of death corresponding with health concerns they want to bring to the attention of the administration.

Protesters laid out five demands, starting with an objection to a requirement for faculty to disclose underlying health conditions, and submit documentation for approval through the ADA or Human Resources to avoid teaching inside classrooms.

They demanded that all faculty have the option of online instruction, and that staff have the option to work from home when possible.

Stemming from requirements for faculty and staff to work overtime and spend their money on resources to work from home, they demanded time and a half pay for hourly staff.

And finally, the protesters said they want to see high-paid university staff and administrators take pay cuts before lower paid workers, including student employees, are laid off due to cuts.

Warmker said student employee layoffs at the Crimson Club Monday add to a frustrating trend at OU since the pandemic began.

She contends that furloughs for some of the higher paid employees could prevent people from losing their jobs. A spokesperson refuted the claims about Crimson Club layoffs.

“We are not going to just passively accept these policies that will endanger our lives,” Warmker said. “They need to understand that either they change the safe and resilient instruction plan, or they’re going to have to deal with mass non-compliance and possibly a strike.”

OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. said Tuesday at the university has not only followed legal requirements and medical advice in its plan, but is also considering flexibility for stakeholders including students, staff, and faculty.

“We asked all off our faculty members, ‘Even if you don’t qualify legally, would you like to be in a position where you can teach online and give us the circumstances,’ not asking for health information,” Harroz said. “We just got the results back from that. In the first instance we were able to provide flexibility to 97-percent of them and we’re talking to the other three percent as well.”

He did not address furloughs or layoffs.

“We don’t know what we’re going into. We know we’re going to have to react to the financial side,” Harroz said. “We don’t know what that is yet and we certainly are going to act appropriately at that time.”

An OU spokesperson also sent News 4 a statement saying,

The University has worked diligently the past several months to support all faculty, staff, and students ahead of our return to in-person operations. Recently, the Office of the Provost announced that 97% of the requests submitted by faculty for flexible teaching arrangements were approved, all without requiring the disclosure of detailed medical information. The University has also enacted staff flexibility guidelines, encouraging the continuation of teleworking arrangements for staff who can complete their work remotely throughout the fall 2020 semester. This week, we’re announcing instructional continuity resources and recommendations to accommodate any potential interruptions in classroom attendance and in-person learning. As the course of the pandemic plays out, any possible furloughs or other necessary financial decisions would be addressed appropriately at that time. In addition to these measures, OU continues to improve ongoing safety plans, that include, but are not limited to: COVID-19 testing for on-campus housing students, a required masking policy, mandatory online health screenings, enhanced cleaning, microbe-fighting devices, facilities upgrades, classroom and instructional modifications and curbside testing.

The university later provided KFOR the following statement regarding Camp Crimson staff:

The University wishes to clarify reports and note that seasonal employment for Camp Crimson staff was set to expire this Friday, July 2020 and no staff were laid off. Camp Crimson staff are hired on a seasonal basis to support Camp Crimson. In keeping with that original agreement, staff will be compensated accordingly for hours worked through the duration of their work agreement. However, there is continued conversation about possible opportunities moving forward.

We want to acknowledge the good work of the students who have been connected to Camp Crimson during the time of COVID-19. This year’s virtual Camp Crimson, while not the in-person experience that was anticipated by students and staff alike, was innovative and important to our incoming students. We are currently exploring opportunities for the Camp Crimson staff to continue their work with students through Crimson Welcome Week while managing the evolving nature of the current public health crisis. In an effort to adhere to policies and the changes associated, Crimson Welcome Week programming will continue as Student Affairs actively works on a plan to support student leaders and incoming students in the days ahead.

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