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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Faculty and graduate students demand UF listen to concerns about Spring courses

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The UF’s faculty and graduate student unions double down to stand against UF’s current plan for in-person classes this Spring.

The UF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, and the UF chapter of Graduate Assistants United, met on Zoom Tuesday morning to demand that UF staff, faculty and graduate students have the option to work or teach remotely in the Spring. They also expressed concern for the lack of transparency and teaching accommodations for the upcoming semester. 

UFF-UF and GAU-UF have been against in-person classes since Fall plans were in the making. Supporting the cause, a group of faculty at UF created a petition on Oct. 5 opposing in-person classes in Spring. In addition, UFF-UF and GAU-UF said during the meeting that they plan to hold a protest in November.

The two unions’ demands include:

  • Allow faculty choose to teach remotely, especially for those who have pre-existing conditions or live with someone at an increased risk for severe illness due to COVID-19 

  • Increased transparency in UF administration’s reasoning to hold more in-person classes

  • Expand accommodations beyond standard Americans with Disabilities Act qualifications

  • Remove the Oct. 19 deadline for requesting special accommodations.

UFF-UF and GAU-UF said they would email the demands to UF President Kent Fuchs shortly after the meeting.

After weeks of planning, Provost Joseph Glover acknowledged Spring plans in a faculty town hall Oct. 6. President Fuchs confirmed the plans in a video posted three days later. He said state funding is a reason for the in-person schedule; however, state appropriations show no need.

To initially combat UF’s proposal for the Spring, a group of faculty in the UF history department issued a petition urging the UF administration to stay partially remote for the semester. It has not been acknowledged by UF, Sheryl Kroen, associate UF history professor said.

As of Monday, the petition has been signed by more than 3,000 members of the UF community, including 800 faculty members and 789 graduate students and assistants, Kroen added.

Paul Ortiz, UFF-UF president, said he expects UF to respond to the demands and be transparent about why they decided to increase the number of face-to-face classes. 

A protest organized by the two unions will take place Nov. 3 at 2 p.m., Ortiz said. The location has not been announced.

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The unions also voiced the need for more accommodations for faculty and staff, especially those at-risk for severe illness due to COVID-19. 

Oct. 19 was the deadline for faculty and graduate assistants to apply for COVID-related federally mandated accommodations for Spring courses through the ADA.

UFF-UF and GAU-UF said the application process was hard because they had to submit medical proof, which doctors can refuse to provide. Also, even when a specific medical condition is known, offices did not reply back promptly and UF only gave them a 12-day notice, Rachel Hartnett, a UF P.h.D. student and graduate assistant, said.

Hartnett, who suffers from two chronic illnesses, one of which puts her at an increased risk if infected with COVID-19, said the only option she was given was unpaid leave. 

“I should not be forced to return to teach in person during a global pandemic that has already killed over 219,000 Americans,” she said. 

Bobby Mermer, GAU-UF President, said that instead of caring about its people, in the last six months, UF has decided to demolish affordable graduate housing on campus by 2023, which is part of UF Housing’s 2018 master plan. He also said UF has threatened faculty with furloughs and exposed the Gainesville community by hosting a football game.

“UF long ago abandoned its duties to its workers, students and Florida taxpayers in favor of artificial rankings and the size of its endowment,” he said.

Sarah Louis, president of NAACP at UF and a UF student, was part of the meeting as a student representative. She lives on campus and said she witnesses students not taking the pandemic seriously. 

“The University of Florida do need to do better in acknowledging that they may be putting at risk not only students, staff and faculty, but the Gainesville community at large,” Louis said. 

Michelle Jacobs, UF law professor, said that when the unions asked the UF provost if the plan for returning to in-person teaching took into account the high mortality rates for Black, Brown and Latinx people, Glover was unable to answer.

Jacobs said she disapproves that faculty are told not to worry because they would be well-treated or have a bed if they get sick.

“We don't want to get sick. Period,” Jacobs said. “We should not be asked to risk our lives to deliver a classroom instruction that can be adequately delivered online.”

Corbin Bolies contributed to this report.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that a group of faculty at UF created the petition opposing in-person classes in Spring. A previous version reported otherwise.

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