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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Faculty, staff union voice concerns about UA’s handling of Omicron spike

Megan Ewing

Pressure to behave perfectly in the pandemic has been on college students more than anyone.

Signs scattered throughout the University of Arizona campus remind students to mask up and Bear Down amidst the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. 

With the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and a spike in the number of cases on campus, University of Arizona faculty and members of the United Campus Workers of Arizona have written a series of letters to UA leadership, addressing their concerns about the handling of the current public health situation at the UA.

The UCW Arizona, the UA and Arizona State University’s wall-to-wall faculty and staff union, first wrote a letter to UA and ASU leadership on Jan. 5. The letter emphasized a desire amongst the union’s members to improve COVID-19 mitigation procedures at both institutions.

“We cannot enter 2022 with 2021 policies in place and expect them to hold Omicron at bay on our campuses or in our communities,” the Jan. 5 letter stated.

The letter laid out a list of changes demanded by the members of the union, which are listed below:

  • Move to remote operations for all course instruction and work until Jan. 28.
  • Provide free, high-quality respirator masks (N95, KN95, KF94 or equivalent) to all students, faculty and staff, and mandate their use in all indoor spaces on campus.
  • Require twice-weekly COVID-19 testing for all on-campus students, staff and faculty, and to make rapid antigen tests freely and widely available on campus.
  • Require COVID-19 vaccination for all students.

RELATED: Cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant identified at University of Arizona

Since the original letter, a single KN95 style mask has been distributed to all instructing faculty. In addition, this semester, students, faculty and staff will be required to wear surgical-style masks in designated indoor spaces, primarily classrooms.

In the latest virtual university status update, President Dr. Robert C. Robbins addressed the Jan. 5 letter.

“These are all important issues,” Robbins said. “As you probably know, and most people know, and certainly the union knows, we can’t mandate vaccination for all students and we can’t mandate testing. We’ve used approaches for increasing testing through our waste water-based epidemiology and based on our case numbers.”

UCW Arizona published a follow-up letter on Jan. 12 that encouraged the UA to “clarify and expand efforts to distribute high-quality respirator masks,” claiming that faculty of UA and ASU campuses have not received clear communication on obtaining these materials, in addition to bolstering testing protocols.

On Jan. 10, a different letter was written by Leila Hudson, a UA professor of Middle Eastern and North African studies and a member of the union. The letter, titled “Open Letter to Provost Folks On Public Health, Teaching Modalities and Academic Freedom,” has been signed by over fifty members of the UA faculty.

The letter, written to UA Provost Liesl Folks, emphasized frustration and concerns held by members of the UA faculty that they would not be permitted to switch to online or hybrid learning formats if they chose. Faculty have voiced the desire to be able to switch to an online learning format if they felt that the in-person learning environment was not safe due to COVID-19.

“[The UA must] acknowledge and embrace people’s academic freedom to deliver the courses in the best way they see fit,” Hudson said in an interview with the Daily Wildcat.

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