United Faculty of Florida opposes spring in-person classes

by Ashley Nguyen

On Oct. 30, the University of Florida announced that in-person classes for Spring 2021 will return to pre-pandemic levels of registration. This announcement has brought forth trepidation, especially from members of the UF faculty, student body, and Gainesville community.

Not only do in-person classes endanger members of the community who belong to high-risk categories (as delineated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), this reckless policy will inevitably lead to dire consequences to workers, staff, and community members who make the everyday processes of the University function smoothly. 

In response to this policy announcement, the United Faculty of Florida at the University of Florida (UFF-UF) has taken several steps to fight against UF’s Spring 2021 reopening plans. We hosted a news conference, helped collect more than 3,000 petition signatures, and staged a protest outside the residence of President Kent Fuchs. 

UFF-UF has also recently filed a chapter grievance against UF’s Spring 2021 Face-to-Face Teaching Mandate, as well as its rejection of COVID-19 ADA accommodation requests from faculty/graduate assistants. The University of Florida has egregiously violated its contractual responsibility to provide safe working conditions for its faculty. If UF wants to keep its status as a top public school, then Fuchs, the Board of Trustees is bound by responsibility to make a fair and reasonable attempt to accommodate faculty members who request remote work for health reasons.

Individual faculty members have submitted requests for accommodations under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), applying for approval to teach remotely in Spring 2021.

According to UF’s Office for Accessibility & Gender Equity, “… 181 faculty applications have been reviewed in consultation with the medical advisory committee, and all received an accommodation of some type: 58 received remote teaching accommodations, and 123 faculty will receive enhanced classroom safeguards, in keeping with the university’s preparations for the spring semester.”

Given that only 58 faculty were granted accommodations to teach remotely in Spring 2021, this means that 68 percent of Requests for Accommodations under the ADA were denied by the University in the middle of the unprecedented COVID-19 Pandemic.

A significant number of faculty who have been denied accommodations to teach remotely are part of high-risk groups that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deems susceptible to the worst impacts of COVID-19. Several of these faculty have compromised immune systems, are primary caretakers, or reside with members of the community that are categorically at-risk.

The situation in Gainesville, especially surrounding the University, appears to be bleak. Students, night in and night out, continue to drunkenly wander through Midtown bars – completely maskless. Video montages from student journalists have depicted barcrawlers admitting that they “are young and immune” to COVID. These will be the students that occupy classrooms in January. These will be the students that will put valuable workers and faculty at (mortal) risk.

Thus far, UF has ham-fistedly hobbled its way through a series of policy decisions that have not guaranteed the safety of its students, workers, or members of the Gainesville community. In times where institutions do not pay attention to the needs of the community, it is necessary that we band together in solidarity. 

Join Young Democratic Socialists of Gainesville, United Faculty of Florida – UF, UF Workers for a Safe Reopening, and other community groups as we protest UF’s reopening plans for Spring 2021. 

We will be gathering on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 4:30 pm in front of Tigert Hall to hear testimonies from people who will bear the brunt of UF’s mistake. 

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