Nevada higher education faculty today issued a statement demanding the University of Nevada, Reno go online for the next two weeks.
Students start spring semester classes tomorrow, Jan. 18, 2022, and faculty said omicron’s surge in the community will shut down courses anyway with sick students and professors.
UNR has seen a spike in cases similar to the rest of the community but during the winter break when few students are on campus. The campus nevertheless saw in early January its highest number of positive cases on any single day – 55 students on Jan. 4 and 14 faculty on Jan. 5 – since the start of the pandemic.
UNR’s COVID-19 dashboard has not been updated since Jan. 7, however, so data are out of date.
The mandate for students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 expired Dec. 21 after the Nevada Legislative Commission’s deadlocked vote to renew the mandate failed to pass.
More than 3,900 faculty, staff, students and alums signed a petition calling for a student vaccine mandate. UNR data show more than 98% of UNR employees are vaccinated, as well as more than 18,000 students.
President Brian Sandoval said in early January the campus is preparing for in-person instruction.
“Throughout the coming semester our focus will be on maintaining the health and safety of our people by closely monitoring and proactively responding to the latest developments regarding COVID-19,” he said.
UNR’s spokesperson said the university is taking extra measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“Our plan for the spring semester includes in-person instruction and in-person operations while utilizing the public health measures that have proven to be effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 – vaccinations, testing, masking, a continued commitment to disinfecting and cleaning public spaces, improved air filtration in our buildings, as well as isolation and treatment of individuals who might test positive for COVID-19,” Scott Walquist said.
Read the statement sent by faculty below:
We are writing to protest UNR administrators’ insistence on starting the semester in person during a severe surge in COVID-19 on campus and preventing instructors from making their own decisions on classroom safety and instruction. We call on the administration to move delivery of all classes online for at least the first two weeks of the semester to protect the health of all members of the UNR community, limit the strain on our overworked healthcare workers, and preserve hospital capacity for those who need it.
Over the winter break, we saw our vaccine mandate dropped and the subsequent enrollment of potentially thousands of students without a proof-of-vaccination requirement (President Sandoval reported to the Board of Regents that more than 18,000 of the roughly 21,000 students are vaccinated). Meanwhile, Omicron has taken hold in Nevada, Reno’s hospitals are nearing capacity limits, and front line health care workers are striking because of management decisions putting them at risk. The city is closing testing sites due to a high number of sick workers, and schools are temporarily shutting down due to high numbers of sick staff.
Other universities in our region are not only requiring booster shots of their students, but also temporarily shifting online. Meanwhile, our administration has insisted that “instructors cannot change the instructional delivery mode of in-person classes to remote or hybrid instruction unless they have received a specific public health directive to do so or have received permission from the Office of the Provost.” Such policies have reinforced the views of many faculty that administrators are prioritizing financial concerns over the health and safety of faculty, students, staff, and the wider community. They also impinge on academic freedom as set out in our university bylaws, which state: “A member of the faculty is responsible for the maintenance of appropriate scholarship and instruction.” (UAM 3.1.2)
Just as the medical and public health advances noted in the Provost’s message of January 11 place us in a better position than a year ago, so do the instructional tools that faculty have learned to utilize in their classrooms—including those used for remote learning. Allowing instructors to use all the teaching methods at their disposal in ways that best meet the needs of their particular classes will enhance students’ educational experience at UNR.
If the administration does not move classes online or take additional steps to guarantee safe classrooms during the Omicron surge—such as requiring and helping students, faculty, and staff access higher quality masks, testing all returning students, and requiring screening testing—NFA leadership affirms the right of all faculty to use standard remote-learning technologies as part of their teaching. Individual instructors are endowed with academic freedom not only to teach content they deem necessary, but also the academic freedom to deliver that content in ways they deem necessary. NFA additionally affirms the right of students to not be penalized for non-attendance of in-person classes due to Covid risk, particularly during the Omicron surge or in the absence of responsible practices by university administration.
Faculty members who test positive, have symptoms, or have been exposed can follow the guidelines on the UNR website regarding isolation and quarantine periods after testing (or waiting for test results) and can take advantage of administrative leave for Covid-related issues or sick leave for illness or family care, as outlined in the policies. Employees are generally not expected to work while on administrative or sick leave.
UNR-NFA Chapter Board, Nevada Faculty Alliance
UPDATE: This story was updated to include UNR’s statement.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.