The following message was sent to all faculty and other members of the campus community this afternoon.
How I wish I could write a perfunctory “welcome to the new semester” email. But, we are amid another COVID-19 surge. Some of us are concerned, worried, or out-and-out alarmed. Conflicting news comes from every direction. Don’t worry if you are vaccinated and boosted. The nation’s health care system is on the brink of collapse. Omicron will evaporate as quickly as it descended upon us if we just hang tight. Or maybe not.
What are the implications for us here on campus? Teach in person? Have everyone zoom for three weeks or more? Have students stay home? What about testing? Like most of you, I am not a virologist or an epidemiologist. I am a researcher and an “informed consumer” of research outside of my areas of study. I try to incorporate a measure of humility into how I process information, to recognize what I don’t know and when I should defer to others’ judgement. Striking a balance between my fears and anxieties, the various pieces of the science, and my own preferences is challenging. It is also precisely what we are being asked to do with Omicron.
Unless you or a loved one with whom you live is unvaccinated, immune compromised, or very old, I would submit that our dismay comes from two sources: not being fully informed and not being given the chance to be heard. You would think if we had learned anything throughout the two years of this pandemic, it would be that people in difficult circumstances need both information and voice. In faculty governance, we’ve done our best to get answers both through our scheduled meetings in November and December and convening a special meeting just before the winter break. But when we don’t know what to ask for, our ability to fully vet the issues becomes limited. The Campus and Community Advisory Committee, which allowed for so much good discussion, vetting, and planning during 2020 through August of 2021, appears to have been completely abandoned despite calls from Katie Musgrove, Chair of the Employee Forum, and others for it to be convened.
Giving units and individuals flexibility to make choices may be the best we can do, a decent compromise given the differing views among the various constituencies both on and off campus. But I wish we’d had a chance to talk about it—all of it—as a community: the modeling, testing options, the implications of different plans, what the projections would be if we delayed bringing students back, what might be lost and what might be gained. To live with a plan we fully understand but some disagree with is different than having something imposed without all of the relevant information. The Faculty Executive Committee will be convening this Monday afternoon from 3-5. We will be asking more questions and seeking further understanding about how our spring semester will begin. To the extent possible at this late date, we will be giving our thoughts and perspectives to our administration. Join us if you can.
With hope that better days are ahead,
Mimi V. Chapman, MSW, PhD
Chair of the Faculty
Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor for Human Service Policy Information
Associate Dean for Doctoral Education
School of Social Work