We are thrilled that nearly 200 members of the GW faculty have signed the pledge, which commits us to solidarity in protecting GW by fighting the layoffs and furloughs of those people who support its mission of research and teaching. Now, we take a further step to declare our solidarity and to secure the future of our university. The attached petition, part of similar efforts by faculty at universities across the country, clarifies faculty’s core demands for safety and employment for GW faculty and staff.
Please sign the petition and forward it to your colleagues and encourage them to sign it too. You have the option of remaining anonymous, but we do need your information in the form to verify your signature.
As GW faculty prepare for the fall semester, we continue to grapple with the fallout from a global pandemic that has upended millions of lives around the globe, killing more than 128,000 people in the U.S. as of this writing, with cases again rising nationally after statewide reopenings. At the same time, we also face uncertainty surrounding our employment and plans for instruction. Especially troubling is the limited amount of input faculty, staff, and graduate employees have been allowed on decisions related to our safety, job security, allocation of resources, and academic freedom to teach in the manner we deem most safe and effective at this time.
The GW administration has made the decision to return to on-campus instruction in the Fall 2020, despite the strong case that has been made in leading public health journals and newsmedia like the New York Times that there is likely no “safe” reopening by the fall semester, and despite the well-documented spread of the virus by young adults. University-based public health researchers advise that if students return to campus for face-to-face instruction, the risk of significant on-campus COVID-19 transmission will be “unmanageably and unavoidably high.” Experts in Disability Studies have pointed out that making online teaching the default, rather than the exception, would protect equity, health, and safety, while reducing the uncertainties regarding hybrid and in-person teaching in the fall. A more limited approach to campus re-opening, these experts advise, would also free space for students who do not have safe off-campus housing to maintain social distance, and would still allow for a limited number of classes or modules that require on-campus work.
Recognizing that Covid-19 is lethal, incurable and continues to spread throughout the U.S., leading universities and universities comparable to GW, such as Yale, the University of Southern California, and the University of Kansas, have come to the decision to make on-line instruction the default mode of course delivery. Yet, GW continues to maintain on-campus, in-person teaching as the standard for all faculty members in fall 2020. Likewise, no opportunity for electing to teach online has so far been provided to graduate student teaching assistants or graduate instructors. The financial decision to assure an on-campus experience for undergraduate students in order to secure dorm fees and other revenue-generating deliverables is tantamount to a decision to force faculty, staff and students to risk their health and safety. This is unacceptable.
We the undersigned GW faculty stand in solidarity with all GW workers and affirm that all people have the right to protect their own well-being. Therefore, GW University must commit to the following, and must formalize all policies in writing:
The university will affirm the autonomy of instructors in deciding whether to teach classes, attend meetings, and hold office hours remotely, in-person, or in a hybrid mode.
Administrative staff members will also have the option of working remotely.
No one will be obligated to disclose personal health information as a justification for the decision to teach or work remotely, nor will they face negative repercussions from the university or supervisors for such a decision.
Instructors will be able to alter the mode of course delivery at any time during the semester if they deem it necessary for their own safety or the safety of their students.
The university will implement and enforce a rigorous system of free, widespread COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and isolation for faculty, staff, and students in accordance with the recommendations of epidemiologists and public health experts.
GW will provide on-campus instructors, staff, and students with all necessary personal protective equipment, and the university will cover any and all costs related to the treatment of COVID-19 and any subsequent complications, including mental health support.
Faculty, staff and students who are working and/or engaging in campus life remotely from outside the Washington, DC area will also have access to these GW-sponsored health benefits.
The university—in consultation with faculty, students, and staff—will outline clear procedures for addressing violations of social distancing, the wearing of masks, and other safety protocols. These measures will not involve campus or local police forces.
Faculty will have the right to bar non-compliant students from their in-person classes should this prove necessary to protect themselves and their other students, and in doing so they will have the support of the Office of Faculty Affairs and the Offices of Student Rights and Responsibility and Academic Integrity.
In addition, we support any demands made by the GW Staff Association, the members of the SEIU locals working at GW, and any other staff unions or advocacy groups for additional safety, health, and security measures to continue their work at GW.
We make these demands as faculty who firmly believe in the importance of the university as a physical site of face-to-face dialogue and debate, and we look forward to the moment when such measures are no longer necessary.