Letter to UNI Faculty, Aug. 14, 2021
Last fall, as we returned to face-to-face classes in the throes of COVID, we were deeply concerned, but we also believed UNI and the Board of Regents were taking reasonable measures to protect our health and safety and that faculty were generally protected in socially-distanced classrooms, with masks required indoors, increased cleaning, improved air systems, and faculty at greatest risk approved to teach virtually as a health accommodation. We ended the year proud of the work all of us accomplished together to keep each other safe and our COVID casualties low.
This year, with the widespread availability of effective vaccines, we all had hoped for a return to more normal and safe operations. However, in the last month, things have quickly changed. We’ve seen the exponential growth of COVID variants like Delta and a growth in cases here in Black Hawk County rising to pre-vaccine levels. We’ve read growing evidence that existing vaccines are not as effective in preventing infection or transmission with variant forms of COVID (although they still offer important protection against hospitalization or death) and we have seen a leveling off of vaccinations in the county and state. On Wednesday, we were informed that the BOR will continue to only encourage masks and vaccines while prohibiting us from mandating them. These are not normal times. COVID remains a serious threat, and most of the strategies that kept us safe last year will not be in place this year.
What is United Faculty Doing To Protect Your Health and Safety?
- UF has filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against the BOR for failure to provide a safe working environment. You can add your own individual OSHA complaint here.
- UF has written a letter to the Board of Regents asking them to allow UNI to impose a mask mandate and to mandate COVID vaccines when the FDA has given these full approval (expected within weeks). We ask you to sign on with us via THIS UNI PETITION. The University of Iowa faculty have also sent a letter and petition, and you are welcome to sign theirs as well at this link.
- UF will continue to advocate for you on the UNI COVID Response Team and in meetings with administration.
- UF will continue to support your autonomy and freedom in your classroom to the fullest extent of the law. We will have further guidance for you on this soon.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Health and Safety?
You know the drill on most of these below, but….
- Get vaccinated. Come to the vaccination clinic on 8/20 or every Thursday afternoon or Friday mornings at the Student Health Clinic or use another provider.
- Wear a mask in indoor public spaces and strongly encourage colleagues and students to do so as well. The CDC guidance now recommends that even those who are vaccinated should wear masks in public indoor areas with high rates of transmission (like Black Hawk County and most of Iowa). Be a role model in respecting and protecting others.
- Plan to proactively communicate with your students prior to the first day on safety and masking.
- Look up your assigned classroom and experiment with how you could reconfigure it to allow for greater social distance. Try requesting a larger classroom and consider hybrid flipped classroom models if you are at higher risk.
- Limit your exposure to indoor settings without social distance, including making office hours virtual and utilizing Zoom for committee meetings.
- Although you may have been told that it is illegal for you to make any inquiry to students on vaccination or other COVID questions, United Faculty has consulted our attorney and is encouraging members to offer to students a voluntary and anonymous survey on vaccination status, intention to mask, and other questions that would help you to make decisions in your classroom. Sharing your results with UF will also help to provide data on campus vaccinations that is otherwise unknown.
- If you are one of the faculty who have been denied a COVID accommodation to teach virtually based on your own medical condition, please contact UF for further guidance and legal advice. You might also consider filing a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
Please continue reaching out to us to share your questions and concerns and we will continue to advocate and work on your behalf.
Becky Hawbaker, President, UF-AAUP
Chris Martin, Vice President, UF-AAUP
Letter to the Iowa Board of Regents, Aug. 14, 2021
We write to join our colleagues at the University of Iowa to ask for your swift action and compassion to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, administrators and others at UNI as we begin fall classes August 23. Specifically and most immediately, we ask for a mask mandate for UNI indoor campus spaces, shifts in classrooms to allow for greater social distancing, and mandating the COVID vaccine for employees and students once the vaccine has full FDA approval.
Like all of you, we had hoped that with the development of effective vaccines last spring, our return to fall would be a return to normalcy. However, in the last month, things have quickly changed. We’ve seen the exponential growth of COVID variants like Delta and a growth in cases here in Black Hawk County rising to pre-vaccine levels. We’ve read growing evidence that existing vaccines are not as effective in preventing infection or transmission with variant forms of COVID (although they still offer important protection against hospitalization or death) and we have seen a leveling off of vaccinations in the county and state. On Wednesday, we were informed that the BOR will continue to only encourage masks and vaccines while prohibiting us from mandating them. These are not normal times. COVID remains a serious threat, and most of the strategies that kept us safe last year will not be in place this year.
The OSHA Act of 1970 SEC. 5. (1) 29 USC 654 provides clear guidance on basic standards for workplace safety:
“Each employer shall furnish to each of his [sic.] employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;”
The science is clear that vaccines and masks are the most effective means protecting us against the recognized hazard of COVID and its variant forms. As COVID has already caused the deaths of thousands of Iowans, its serious threat to physical harm to your employees cannot be minimized. Your COVID policies leave us with an unsafe work environment, leaving us exposed to the recognized hazard of COVID, which has already killed thousands of Iowans.
UNI has faculty with their own serious health risks who have been denied an accommodation to teach online in fall 2021 because it is, according to university officials, inconvenient for students to switch course delivery. We have faculty with vulnerable and unvaccinated children or other family members who are not eligible for ADA accommodations left with few options to protect their family as you require them to teach face to face in a mask-optional, socially-distanced-impossible environment. This is professionally and ethically untenable.
We recognize that this is a politically charged issue, but at the end of the day each of you must answer to your own conscience or higher power whether you did all you could to protect the most vulnerable under your care. It should not take another spike in infections, hospitalizations, or deaths for you to act to prevent what is predictable given the science and the experience of other states. We should not risk the death or long-term COVID disability of one university employee or student because we did not act soon enough.
Please, do the right thing. Speak truth to power. Stand up for the thousands of Regents employees and students who depend on your safeguarding.
•Follow CDC guidance and reinstate a mask mandate for unvaccinated individuals as well as those vaccinated as long as local data show a high rate of infection.
•Once COVID vaccines receive full FDA approval, require them for students, staff, and employees.
•Recommend the offering of virtual options for all campus meetings
•Establish clear and transparent benchmark data to trigger decisions for moving online and returning to face-to-face instruction.
Thank you for your consideration and please do not hesitate to contact us for further discussion. We sign below and will update with the names of additional faculty, staff, or students as they join our invitation of petition.
Becky Hawbaker, President, United Faculty-AAUP
Chris Martin, Vice President, United Faculty-AAUP
United Faculty’s Aug. 13, 2021 Complaint to OSHA
House File 847 (pp. 14-15 for ban on facial covering requirements).
State of Iowa Board of Regents, “Statement from President Mike Richards Lifting Regents State of Emergency,” May 20, 2021.