Queries to Public Health Team

Sent: Tuesday, August 31, 2021 11:07 AM
Subject: Queries to Public Health Team from SU AAUP 

Dear Ramesh,

The Provost’s office offered you as the direct contact person for the University’s Public Health Team. Thank you, and the rest of the group, for your ongoing work, much of it invisible to the broader campus.

We are writing as the Executive Committee of the SU chapter of the AAUP, with a set of urgent questions re: public health protocols and decision-making at SU. 

  1. What is the public health rationale for not having a universal, robust, and consistent indoor masking policy for everyone on campus: students, faculty, staff, and visitors? CDC guidance since July 27 has recommended indoor masking for everyone (vaccinated and unvaccinated) in areas with substantial or high transmission rate. SU is deviating from that CDC guidance, and requiring faculty in their individual classrooms to not ‘deviate’ from the University’s deviation. What is the public health rationale for SU’s deviation from federal public health guidances on masking indoors? 
  2. The Provost last week publicly told a group of faculty that parents of SU students did not want their children to be masked. Can you please explain clearly how the Public Health Team is managing the pressures from parents, the Board of Trustees, or senior SU administrators to not institute a masking “mandate”, with the demands of creating protective and public health-informed masking policy at SU? Faculty are reasonably concerned that the SU administration — unlike most of its aspirational peer institutions — is refusing to institute a universal indoor masking requirement due to pressures from ‘stakeholders’ who are not SU faculty, students, or staff, and whose views on masking ignore “the science” on which the Public Health Team and the administration claim to be predicating their decisions. 
  3. Please articulate the specific criteria that trigger changes in the four-level masking policy at SU? There has been no transparent or informative communication to faculty re: why or how the University moves from one color code to the next. And what specifically is the threshold metric for moving to online instruction as a public health measure? Last year, the daily COVID dashboard updates and a publicly-stated campus case load threshold for moving fully online allowed faculty to know where we stood. This year, we so far have neither.  
  4. What mechanisms are in place for enforcement of SU’s four-tiered, eight-box matrix masking policy? In particular, if students arrive in a classroom confused about or resistant to that day’s code-level masking policy, what does the Public Health Team recommend as an immediate remedy for faculty in the classroom, given the immediate health risk of students–including vaccinated students–transmitting disease to others during the 55 to 180 minute time span of an in-person class conducted in an enclosed space? What public health protections are faculty to take in this situation? Are faculty to ask unmasked or partially masked students to leave the room? Will the University’s Public Health Team support faculty who refuse to work in an in-person setting that does not meet the University’s masking policy?
  1. What is the public health rationale for not requiring proof of vaccination from faculty and staff at SU? Relatedly, what precisely are the statistical percentages of faculty/staff responses to the online survey re: vaccination status (fully vaccinated; one dose only; not vaccinated for medical or religious reasons)? While the University claims to have required vaccination among faculty and staff, in fact SU has required nothing from faculty and staff beyond a response or ‘attestation’ via a brief online survey in which being vaccinated, or having one dose of a vaccine (including for some two-dose vaccination protocols), or having a medical or “sincerely held religious” reason for not vaccinating, are all satisfactory responses. This is, again, in contrast with many of SU’s aspirational peer institutions which require documentation of vaccination not only from students, but from faculty and staff as well. Failure to date to publicly release the statistical percentages of the various ‘attestations’ from faculty and staff does not build trust. 
  2. Code “blue” of SU’s current four-tier making policy distinguishes between indoor settings where “academic instruction” takes place and those where it does not. What is the public health rationale for not requiring masking of all students in indoor settings where students often congregate in groups for long periods of time–for example, Bird Library–while requiring indoor masking of all students during academic instruction, under conditions of code “blue”? How to explain differing Covid protections for SU staff who work in such indoor settings, and SU faculty during academic instruction? 

Finally, it is neither appropriate nor accurate for members of the University’s Public Health Team to state to the campus community that an SU faculty petition re: Covid safety “reflects their [faculty] ignorance.”  Whatever role the Public Health Team has played to date in the abysmal communication from administrators to faculty about safety protocols this semester, we ask that your future role be to share and circulate concrete information to faculty with respect, clarity, and urgency. 

We appreciate in advance your prompt reply. 

Matt Huber – AAUP President

Joanna Spitzner – Vice President

Gail Hamner – Treasurer

Jenny Breen – Secretary

Ivy Kleinbart – Non-TT Faculty Representative

Jackie Orr – Member at Large

Crystal Bartolovich – Past-President

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