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Faculty Council publishes “Statement of Immediate Concerns”

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Photos outside the College of Arts and Sciences offices on September 9, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The O’Colly has obtained a copy of a statement issued by OSU’s College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Council, recommending changes in the university’s approach to COVID-19.

The statement is dated Sept. 3, and has been distributed amongst OSU faculty members. The document takes the form of a letter, and is signed by the Faculty Council as a whole rather than listing individual authors.

The letter is cordial, but the tone is far from congratulatory. In the document, the Faculty Council expresses deep concerns about the developing COVID-19 situation on campus, and in the surrounding community.

“Specifically,” the statement reads, “as faculty we feel insufficiently informed about the risks to our health, largely absent from the decision-making processes that are now in place, and concerned about the steps being taken to combat the spread of COVID-19 on campus and in the Stillwater Community.”

Several concerns are examined in the letter, including transparency, transition thresholds, and COVID-19 testing policies. For each concern addressed, the Faculty Council makes a recommendation for resolving the issue.

The statement closes by acknowledging that there are difficult decisions ahead of the university administration, and requesting more involvement in that process.

“In the future,” the statement reads, “we hope that such decision making, particularly relating to mode of instruction, will incorporate input directly from faculty, staff, and students, as we are the ones being asked to implement and live with the consequences of these decisions.”

What follows is a summary of the concerns, and recommended responses to those concerns. The full letter is available for viewing online.

Data Sharing and transparency

“We judge the weekly online COVID-19 dashboard updates to be inadequate for keeping the faculty informed,” the statement reads.

The letter also calls some data metrics, like the positivity rate reported on the dashboard, “misleading”. The authors argue that the positivity rate reported should be of the tests given that week, but currently reports the positives as a percentage of the total university population.

The authors recommend sharing all available data on outbreaks and case rates, positives in dorms and Greek houses, contact tracing efforts, and quarantine numbers. Additionally, they suggest reporting new on campus data twice a week at minimum, and preferably daily.

Prompt notification of faculty regarding student cases

This section of the statement is an extension of the calls for transparency, but makes an explicit case for a specific type of transparency.

The recommendation for this section is notifying faculty immediately when a student in their class tests positive for COVID-19, or is in quarantine due to exposure with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

Testing

The testing section of the statement begins by complimenting OSU for the testing they’ve performed at the state level, but calls for an increase in on-campus testing. The authors claim that many students who get tested at an off-campus site do not report their results to the university.

The statement recommends a comprehensive testing plan, with rapid testing of all students in dorms, and in Greek houses. The authors also call for a greater sample size for random testing among students and employees.

Mode of teaching and transition thresholds

This section of the letter calls for clearly defined thresholds for a transition to online instruction only. The authors claim the university has failed to communicate any clear criteria for this transition to the faculty.

“This increases uncertainty in what is already a very difficult and stressful situation,” the statement reads.

The authors recommend both setting these explicit thresholds, and giving faculty greater autonomy to decide how best to deliver instruction of their classes to their students.

This story is developing, and will be updated as more information becomes available.

news.ed@ocolly.com