Statement from campus constituencies on administration response to COVID-19

Editor's Note: What follows is a statement from faculty and staff unions regarding SIUE administration's recent decision to return to campus.

A coalition of the unions representing over 650 faculty and 200 staff at SIUE learned Wednesday that although the COVID-19 rate on campus continues to climb, the SIU Board and System President Dan Mahony have mandated that all classes be returned to face-to-face.

“The Board and President are putting students, faculty, and staff at risk at a time when the positivity rate, both on campus and in the community in which we live and work, has never been higher,” said President Ed Navarre, representing 400 tenure-line faculty. “We can’t help but feel that we are being treated as expendable.”

The mandate, issued from Carbondale, comes just five business days after faculty and staff were ordered to shift classes to an online format for the first week of the semester.

The 7-day average for COVID-19 positivity rate among students and employees at SIUE jumped to 13 percent before most students even returned to campus. According to SIUE’s mitigation plan, a campus positivity rate of 8 percent automatically triggers restrictions. However, students and employees who are symptomatic are excluded from campus data because they are required to test off campus. Additionally, the mitigation plan does not consider the positivity rate in the surrounding community, which has skyrocketed to 24 percent, giving the Metro East a higher positivity rate than the Chicago area.

“We had only two days’ notice to completely overhaul the first week of classes, and now in the middle of the first week, we get two days’ notice to shift everything back,” added Navarre. “This is not how quality, thoughtful teaching is done, and it is certainly not how faculty and staff want to do things at SIUE.”

“The Board and President’s mandate is not well-organized,” added Michele Lorenzini, President of the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association. “For example, there is no mechanism for mandatory campus testing to be enforced. Also, faculty won’t know by Tuesday which students were not tested, or tested positive, and are not allowed in the classroom. The administration promised to provide KN95 masks to all faculty, too, but those masks won’t be here by Tuesday.”

“Meanwhile, offices are required to de-densify, indicating that they know the infection rate is too high to safely be on campus,” Lorenzini continued. “Yet all the classrooms have been returned to full capacity, so faculty and students will not have social distancing.”

The highest positivity rates in Madison County are among 12-39 year olds. While the campus has an approximately 80 percent vaccination rate, the booster is not required. Additionally, the SIUE campus includes the Head Start program, serving students who are too young to be vaccinated.

Professional Staff Association President Kim McClellan represents 200 members, both grant-funded employees at the East St. Louis center and Head Start program, and counselors and advisors on the Edwardsville campus. McClellan commented that “jeopardizing student-facing staff during a pandemic goes against the University's stated values of wisdom and integrity.” Regarding the lack of guidance in the System-wide mandate for the Pre-K-12 population at the East St Louis Center, she added, “The community we serve includes families, students, and staff from among the most vulnerable populations. The mandate is silent about how we should keep trying to keep staff and students safe with such limited resources and options.”

“We look at how difficult things are in the District 7 schools in our community,” said Navarre. “So many people are sick and this variant spreads so quickly. We want our SIUE community to be as safe as possible, so we’re uncertain why these decisions from the Board and President in Carbondale put our community in danger.”

"SIUE's eventual decision to shift to remote learning on January 10th was the responsible one,” said Lorenzini. “The SIU System's decision to go back on-ground en masse January 18th defies all of the data."

   

On behalf of the unions,

Edward Navarre, SIUE Faculty Association

Michele Lorenzini, SIUE Non-tenure-track Faculty Association

Kimberly McClellan, SIUE Professional Staff Association

(4) comments

Billy Cyprus

i really like this post, thank you for sharing this information with us

Claire Iott

Please do more reporting on this situation! Many students are also opposed to a return to in person learning. There are two petitions circulating on change.org, asking the SIU system to reconsider this decision. Student government is going to be speaking with the chancellor about these petitions. Together, these petitions have over 1,000 signatures, along with several comments.

The petitions are named Dedensifying SIUE 2022 and Give SIUE more options for safe learning.

Please do more reporting on this! Also, this was not mentioned in the article, but I have heard through the grapevine that university housing has run out of quarantine space and is now sending infected students home. Could you investigate this and confirm it?

Anonymous Poster

We need more reporting on this. Have you asked the system president for comment? Ask him what the recommendation was from the SIUE leaders. Who made the decision? Was the board of turstees invovled? Don't let them off the hook--if someone else is making the decisions, we all should know.

Claire Iott

Agreed! Do more reporting on this situation! The system president’s decision is putting students, staff and faculty in danger. Investigate this situation further. Why did they make this choice? Keep the pressure on them.

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