Union of UO graduate employees pushes for online courses amid COVID-19 peak

ByMike V. Cooper

Jan 7, 2022

After a spike in new cases of COVID-19 in the University of Oregon campus community, administrators have implemented new policies, including allowing instructors to teach classes remotely when absent. ‘a large number of students. The union of university graduates says more needs to be done.

In a message On Thursday, UO Provost Patrick Phillips announced that instructors can move courses online, at the discretion of their department heads, if they experience 20% or more student absences related to COVID-19.

Phillips stressed that in-person teaching should remain the first choice for instructors.

“We continue to focus on in-person teaching as the best option whenever possible and instructors can continue to teach in-person even when 20% or more of their class is absent,” Phillips wrote in the announcement.

The new policies come after the university reported 154 confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 among members of the campus community last week, from December 27 to January 2.

The number of cases appears to be increasing rapidly. As of Monday, the first day of the winter semester, UO reported 71 new cases. As of Tuesday, he reported 222 cases. This compares to about 30 cases per week before the holidays.

Student employees who graduated from the university said in a letter on Wednesday that the increase in the number of cases was more than enough reason to take stronger action. The union is calling on university leaders to move online classes over the next two weeks to slow the spread of the virus and allow students and employees to receive their COVID-19 booster shots.

The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, the union of UO graduate employees, posted on social networks Wednesday the letter that its president addressed to the administration of the university.

Johnson Hall on the University of Oregon Eugene campus.

Kaylee Domzalski / OPB

GTFF chairman Mel Keller told the OPB on Thursday that the union was encouraged by the provost’s announcement of new policies, but more needed to be done to keep students and employees safe.

“It is encouraging that the university is taking action, but we are and continue to be disappointed with their dedication to in-person learning at the expense of the health and safety of the campus community,” Keller said.

Keller said options for faculty to move education online are extremely limited, including this 20% or more absence rule.

“We also believe that even with this temporary option to switch to e-learning, it is not enough for the university to counter the wide spread of the omicron variant,” she said. “Particularly because it is at the request of each faculty, down to individual department heads, down to the individual at large, there is no coordinated strategy across the university.”

Along with the demand to move courses online, GTFF had also asked administrators to provide N95 or KN95 masks to students and employees.

In the letter to the OU administration, Keller wrote that many members of the OU campus community still wear cloth or surgical masks, which have been shown to offer less protection against COVID-19. .

UO Provost Phillips announced Thursday that disposable surgical masks will continue to be available in college classrooms. He also said the university anticipates that a limited number of KN95 masks may be available for people who have forgotten their masks at home.

“With such a large university and a research budget as large as the University of Oregon, the fact that it cannot supply KN95 or N95 masks to anyone who teaches and works on campus is a massive oversight. given the much greater protection of these masks, “Keller told OPB.

Keller said the union believes the way the university is handling the pandemic, and the omicron outbreak in particular, is not enough.

“It’s not just a problem that ends when you leave campus. It’s a problem that affects the entire Eugene community, and the university doesn’t seem to recognize it, ”Keller said.