The Aug. 13 Board of Governors meeting took place via Zoom and conference call. Below are APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin’s comments as prepared:
Chairwoman Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, governors, university presidents and guests,
As I begin my remarks this morning, I would like to start by making an observation — and it is an obvious one. I am not giving these remarks at the Dixon University Center. All of us are in our offices or homes scattered throughout the Commonwealth. This meeting is remote because we are all aware that assembling in person in the board room in the DUC would not allow for appropriate physical distancing. As we know, the CDC recommends at least 6 feet of physical distance between oneself and others, and this should be done in concert with other preventive actions, such as wearing masks, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. While all of us would prefer to be in the same room and to interact with one another face-to-face, the Board of Governors is not meeting in person because it would not be safe to do so.
On the other hand, something very different is beginning to occur on some of the State System campuses. On Monday, face-to-face classes began at Cheyney University. Concerns have been raised by some of my colleagues there regarding an inability for students and faculty to appropriately physically distance in some of the classrooms. When these concerns were raised, a member of the administration stated that there are no specific requirements that there must be 6 feet of distance between desks, rather the guidelines suggest this should occur “when feasible.” This type of statement represents a lack of concern — and perhaps even disdain — for the students and faculty at one of our nation’s oldest HBCUs.
This week, students are arriving back to campus at Bloomsburg and Shippensburg universities, and they will be on campus for up to a week before classes begin. Students will begin arriving early next week at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and mid-week at Kutztown University. Many believe, and science seems to confirm, that having students return to campuses for in-person classes — or even hyflex classes — is unsafe, and the proliferation of COVID-19 cases at other universities is alarming. According to a recent New York Times report, more than 6,600 coronavirus cases have been linked to U.S.colleges and universities, and the fall semester has not yet begun at most of them.
In Georgia, the Cherokee County School District began K-12 classes on Aug. 3. On Aug. 4, parents were notified that a student tested positive for COVID-19, and that resulted in 20 students and a teacher being sent into quarantine for two weeks. The class is now being taught remotely. By the start of the second week of classes, over 900 students and staff members have been ordered to quarantine, and nearly 60 positive cases have been reported. One important difference between the K-12 schools and colleges and universities is that K-12 students return at the end of every school day to their homes and are under the supervision of parents or guardians. At our universities, this is not the case; our students do not have supervision of parents or guardians.
In a recent op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale University, said this:
“Dorms are like cruise ships on land or prisons without bars: people living in proximity, in frequent contact over extended periods of time. For many infectious pathogens, such settings are a boon for disease transmission…Colleges are perfect incubators for viral spread and propagation.”
I feel compelled to continue to articulate the real apprehensions of the members of my union. I want the position and concerns of APSCUF to be very well-documented. My members are convinced, as am I, that there will be cases of COVID-19 on some of our campuses; that students, staff and faculty will become ill; and there will be spread to the communities in which our universities are located.
I will close by saying that I hope and pray that I am wrong. I hope that our universities will be able to catch lightning in a bottle and that there will be no cases of COVID-19 on any of our campuses. If that occurs, I will stand before all of you, in person or remotely, and will admit my error and will encourage you to remind me of it. My real fear, however, is that the students, staff and faculty at Cheyney University — because they are the first university to open — will be the canaries in the coal mine, and I hope that they will all emerge healthy and safe.
Thank you for your time, and I wish you all continued good health.