SU-AAUP Letter on Social and Racial Justice Concerns, August 20, 2020

Dear Chancellor and SU Administrative Leadership:

We, the Executive Committee of the SU-AAUP, write in concern that the re-opening plans for Fall 2020 have paid far too little attention to the increased risk of COVID infection to University staff, and residents of the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County. Specifically, the disproportionately non-white and economically precarious restaurant, bar, custodial, and transportation employees who most frequently encounter, serve, and clean up after our returning students and faculty are in the frontlines of COVID-19 community transmission.

We see these as social justice issues – issues that have a long history at this institution. As articulated in SU-AAUP’s Alternate Framework for Fall 2020, before the pandemic hit, Syracuse University faced another crisis: the exposure of injustice rooted in institutional and overt racism and hate on campus. In response to that crisis, the administration levied penalties on precisely the marginalized communities protesting these problems. We call on SU’s administrative leadership to publicly recognize this pandemic as yet another crisis of social and racial justice in which communities of color, low-income students, workers, city residents of Syracuse, and vulnerable people with disabilities, are at significantly greater risk than others. We seek clear policies that will protect the health of the wider Syracuse community and that will monitor the impact on our city following the arrival of thousands of students, many of whom will be traveling from high infection areas.

With Covid-19, as in all other matters, the SU administration must commit to principles of social justice and anti-racism, not only with words, but with action. Working in consultation with other faculty governance groups, student activists, and SU staff, we raise a set of questions and concerns below which require a clear and immediate accounting.

We call on SU administrators and Working Groups to foreground consistently these unequal risks in your public statements and institutional protocols, as well as on the Fall 2020 Open webpage. As one example, we affirm the University’s decision to provide masks, hand sanitizer, and isopropyl alcohol in an intentional effort to maintain sanitized campus environments. But reports in The New York Times and elsewhere suggest that not all businesses will have the funds, personnel, or time to maintain the standards aspired to by the University. This means student behavior off campus can more easily bring risks to the wider Syracuse community. How will you respond to this fact? What will you ask of students, staff, and faculty as we move from campus into community business and residential spaces?

SU’s Stay Safe Pledge delimits the ‘community’ to be protected in Fall 2020 to the SU campus, ignoring the profound ways in which all University members dwell within a broader Syracuse community. We urge you to look beyond campus borders and articulate concrete policies and expectations that will maximize collective care and responsible actions in student and faculty interactions with non-campus spaces, businesses, and workers. To that end, we ask you to respond publicly to the following concerns:

1. Staff interactions with students arriving on campus:

a. Which staff are charged with ensuring that students moving into campus or off-campus spaces have submitted a negative COVID-19 test?

b. What training have they had, and how much access to PPE do they have?

2. Staff interactions with students in quarantine:

a. What are staff responsibilities in caring for and cleaning up after students in isolation or quarantine?

b. What training and PPE are provided to staff who care for and clean up after students in quarantine?

c. What procedures are in place to ensure that staff have access to online information, workshops, and training sessions?

d. What accommodations are in place for staff with disabilities or pre-existing health conditions?

3. Student engagements with City and County:

a. We ask that administrative reports and messaging consistently include the expectation that students uphold the “Stay Safe Pledge” in City and County spaces as well as campus spaces. The recent “Dear Syracuse Neighbor” letter from SU’s director of State and Local Government Relations calls, at best, for vague forms of neighborhood ‘support’ to ensure responsible student behavior. What actions can community members take when students are behaving irresponsibly? Is calling DPS the University’s only recommendation for concerned neighbors?

b. We ask that administrators emphasize the disproportionate effects this virus has on communities of color and working-class populations, who serve as the backbone of essential and frontline workers during the pandemic. And we ask that you emphasize the risks for vulnerable populations, for whom physical disabilities or pre-existing health conditions create increased threats of severe illness.

c. We affirm the University’s concern this summer in the face of shifting Visa requirements. What will you ask of students, staff, and faculty to protect our international student communities as well as non-campus communities who face new and changing ICE policies, increased deportations, and threats of deportations during a public health crisis?

4. Off-campus parties:

The context: We have already seen reported in the Post-Standard not only the fact of large parties without recommended masks or social distancing, but also and more troubling the brewing opposition between DPS and SPD. DPS has asked citizens to lodge complaints to the Syracuse Police Department, but the Mayor has said that SPD will not respond to calls about SU students. Meanwhile, anecdotes have come to us that raise concerns about the actions of DPS at off-campus sites, and the limited options available to concerned neighbors. The increased security protocols around social distancing raise fresh concerns around longstanding problems with heavy handed and violent practices used by DPS against students, and particularly Black students. These issues were raised by #NotAgainSU and other student movements long before the pandemic. In this confusion about how or whether DPS or SPD should discipline students, we offer the following:

a. We note the particular challenges of prohibiting large parties at SU, named the #1 Party School in the U.S. by the 2020 Princeton Review. With gatherings restricted to 25 participants and social distancing, the danger of unintended consequences—including secretive and packed indoor Greek life parties—is real. In fact, the Stay Safe Pledge may well incentivize students not to social distance by encouraging less-visible-to-the-authorities indoor gatherings, instead of outside gatherings which would be safer from a health perspective. How is the administration addressing this situation, and the threat it presents to off-campus as well as campus-wide public health?

b. We need public circulation of the University’s policies and procedures for responding to complaints about off-campus parties.

c. We insist that students who do not uphold the Stay Safe Pledge be penalized, and we hear Syracuse residents urging the University to use DPS and SPD to contain these parties. The University does need clear policies and procedures; however, in our ongoing commitment to counter racialized over-policing, we also insist that DPS and SPD not be in charge of this process. We advocate for a procedure that uses community policing models to gather a diverse group of students, faculty, and administrators to review community complaints and channel them to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

d. We continue to support #NotAgainSU in the effort to disarm or disband DPS.

5. We stand in solidarity with SU athletes who declare their unwillingness to play under these high-risk conditions. We expect SU coaches, coaching staff and upper administration to lobby the NCAA Board of Governors to extend athletes eligibility to make up for this lapse in their athletic training and performance.

6. On behalf of non-tenured faculty and all staff members, we ask for a transparent reporting-out of the employment effects of this pandemic:

a. What are the numbers of lay-offs and what divisions are most affected?

b. What is the possibility for prioritizing the re-hiring of laid-off employees in the future?

c. If an employee is laid-off, what are the specific effects on their benefits package?


Crystal Bartolovich

Katie Feyh

M. Gail Hamner

Matt Huber

Jackie Orr

Joanna Spitzner

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