UD Solidarity Petition regarding Campus Re-Opening, Fall 2020
To: President Eric Spina
On June 18, 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine cited Montgomery county as a COVID-19 “hotspot” for “worrisome” increases in infection. One week later, the University announced its plans for re-opening in August. Recognizing the unpredictability of public health variables and the contingent nature of plans for the fall semester, we write to share our concerns regarding the University’s decision-making process thus far and to provide recommendations for principled actions moving forward.
In so doing, we acknowledge the tension between health risks and the financial impact of reopening. Balancing these factors may require changing plans before Fall semester or after classes resume. We also express our support for the guiding principles recently established to inform the campus COVID-19 response. These principles shape the proposed actions detailed below, which result from sustained conversations among employees across units. We, the undersigned staff, faculty, and graduate students, therefore implore you to act in the following ways:
I. Health and Safety: If health and safety are the top priority, then employees must have the necessary autonomy to make decisions regarding their well-being and the essential equipment to protect themselves while at work.
I.A. To reduce density on campus and create a safer working environment for all, University of Dayton employees should have the right to make final decisions regarding the modality by which they perform their jobs without need for justification or documentation. Faculty or staff who choose to complete duties remotely should not be penalized on that basis.
I.B. Complete sets of personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies should be provided to all employees in their workspaces by the University and be regularly available throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I.C. To effectively monitor COVID-19 transmission, the University should provide on-campus rapid testing at no cost to students and employees exhibiting symptoms or those exposed to the virus. In accord with best public health practices, the University should also establish a plan to provide regular tests to asymptomatic members of the campus community.
I.D. Since COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, the University should clearly communicate what solutions are being applied to protect students and employees with respect to upgrading indoor ventilation and airflow filtration systems.
I.E. The University should provide staff with an additional two weeks paid leave in the event of exposure to COVID-19, unlimited paid leave for recovery in the event of illness, and flexible working hours for employees with caregiving responsibilities.
II. Equity and Inclusion: Data demonstrate that furloughs and layoffs disproportionately impact(ed) vulnerable employees. The plans announced for fall will assuredly have further disproportionate impacts on women and caregivers whose responsibilities have increased significantly during the pandemic.
II.A. As the financial outlook for the fall semester appears far stronger than the worst-case scenario forecasted and as some furloughed employees are now being reinstated, a corresponding schedule of commitment should be released for rehiring any other employees that remain on furlough as well as employees who were laid-off. Moving forward, furloughs and layoffs should be utilized only as a last resort and be made on the basis of a sliding scale proportionate to overall salary so that those with the highest incomes are first to share in sacrifice.
II.B. The University should provide clear criteria and definitions that constrain the new, vague language in faculty contracts that describes salary as “subject to adjustment(s) as approved by the Board during the contract term” and, in paragraph 7, outlines a potential reduction in role due to “an exceptional case of some notable or unforeseen circumstance,” which could result in collecting less than a full year’s salary.
II.C. The University should conduct and publish equity impact assessments before and after all major financial decisions. Pre-assessments suggesting negative impacts on racial and gender equity should be rejected; post-assessments showing negative impacts on equity goals should include plans for remedying inequities.
II.D. The University should match all employee and external contributions to the Marianists’ Employee Assistance Fund. Availability of funds should be expanded to include current employees for unexpected expenses (i.e., childcare, medical bills, etc.) incurred due to COVID-19.
II.E. With the recent order from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeting international students, and the potential shift to online instruction as COVID-19 spreads, the University should create special accommodations to ensure that all members of our community who are vulnerable due to their immigration status are protected during this difficult time.
III. Shared Governance: If shared governance is a key priority, the lack of equal representation of employees in decision-making processes, made evident by the current crisis, must be meaningfully amended.
III.A. University leadership should consult with representatives in existing shared governance structures prior to decisions being made moving forward.
III.B. Given the critical role that staff plays in the mission of the University and their relative absence from decision-making structures, a Staff Board should be created. Modeled after the Faculty Board, this body should include caucuses for groups within the staff that are in need of representation, including (but not limited to) African American staff members.
III.C. The University should express its support for additional Non-Tenure Track faculty seats on the Academic Senate, including its Executive Committee, to more accurately represent the proportion of the faculty they comprise.
IV. Open Communication: Key issues are overlooked and opportunities for creative innovation are lost when access to information is uneven and communication non-transparent.
IV.A. Senior leadership should provide regular, timely updates on real-time budgets with rationales for new spending and cuts, host open forums prior to all major financial decisions, and respond publicly to feedback.
IV.B. Senior leadership should hold bi-weekly forums for students and employees to pose questions and share experiences related to reopening processes.
IV.C. Committees and groups formed for decision-making purposes should have the names of their members made public. Avenues of communication should be made available to these groups for employees to regularly provide input.
We appreciate your consideration of these critical issues. We acknowledge the difficulties of leadership during this challenging time and look forward to working with you on these matters. To that end, we request a detailed response at your earliest opportunity.
The Undersigned Staff, Faculty, and Graduate Student Employees of the University of Dayton, and their supporters