Many campus professors said that their administration ignored their concerns about safe teaching this fall, and the number of COVID-19 cases has risen again due to the Delta variant. But the professors at Northern Illinois University said they would feel comfortable returning to campus due to the understanding reached between the tenure and tenure faculty union and the administration this week.

A key clause in the agreement is the two-part trigger for switching to distance learning: When or if the campus positive rate of the COVID-19 surveillance test reaches 8%, any teacher can choose to teach online.This is different from some other fall 2022 remote policies that exist because they usually involve starting a semester online and continuing this way within a specified time (think about the three weeks of the University of Texas at San Antonio Remote start).

Kerry Ferris, a professor of sociology in Northern Illinois and chairman of the teachers’ union, said that she and her colleagues have promoted a “hyperlocal” remote measurement standard, rather than a set that feels more arbitrary or remote. standard.They chose the 8% mark because it’s a warning critical point The Illinois Department of Public Health monitors all regions of the state through it.

“These are the conditions, and this is the level of transmission that will affect us,” Ferris said. “What happens in other parts of the state does not necessarily affect us.”

What is the 8% positive rate? Ferris said the university never reached this level of communication in the 2020-21 academic year, which ended with approximately 70% of online courses and 30% of face-to-face courses. (According to the university, the enthusiasm of the weekly monitoring test averaged 1-2% last year, and about 75% of the courses were taught online). Ferris said that about 70% of the courses this semester will be face-to-face and 30% will be online courses. Therefore, considering the rapid increase in the number of cases elsewhere, the teachers’ union hopes to have a clear understanding of when the courses will be transferred to the Internet when necessary at the beginning of the new year.

“All we want is to allow people to make choices that make them feel safe,” Ferris said, adding that union members were surveyed about their preferences for the agreement. “This is a lesson in the importance of collective action.”

Also under the new agreement, professors or caregivers of immunocompromised persons can start distance teaching from the semester.

Professors and students must also wear masks at all times in teaching spaces (including libraries).

Previously, the Teachers Union of the American Federation of Teachers and Northern Illinois had agreed on student vaccination requirements, regular COVID-19 testing for students and professors, and the use of high-quality air filters in classrooms. These points are also included in the new memorandum of understanding. The upper limit of classroom density is 75%.

Ferris stated that since March 2020, unions and universities have been collaborating to develop community safety guidelines. This does not mean that this set of regulations can be achieved without much effort, but: the memorandum of understanding was not obtained this fall, and the start of the semester is imminent, the union held a rally on campus last week. Only a few days later, a formal agreement was reached.

“We got something we wanted, which of course is the way of negotiation,” Ferris said.

Trade unions, including faculty and postgraduate unions, have been an effective tool for many campuses to negotiate epidemic planning. Bill Herbert, executive director of the National Research Center for Higher Education and Professional Collective Bargaining at Hunter College, City University of New York, said that faculty, students, and staff use collective bargaining and co-governance to “successfully transition to remote work and develop emergency response plans.” .

He said that, in particular, the new agreement in Northern Illinois shows that collective bargaining can be “a means of creative response when reasonable health and safety issues increase.”

In general, Herbert added, “The collaborative approach to reopening issues through negotiation and labor-management discussions is the best way to protect administrators, faculty, and students and avoid litigation under federal and state health and safety laws— Especially considering the existence of virus variants and changing federal and state guidance.”

As for what any agreement may provide, Herbert said that universities and labor unions “have trained health and safety personnel who can assist in the development of flexible data-based reopening policies in the context of ongoing health and safety uncertainties.”

Northern Illinois spokesperson Joe King said the university has a “strong working relationship” with its tenured and tenured faculty unions and the non-tenured faculty unions. The two unions “raised a series of concerns this summer from their membership. The focus of the union’s attention is on “having a safe campus environment and protecting fragile faculty and staff, which are important issues shared by all relevant personnel. As with any negotiation process, people repeatedly discuss to reach an agreement on how to implement these issues. Important priority.”

However, having a teacher union does not ensure successful cooperation between teachers and the administration in reopening—especially on politicized issues like COVID-19. For example, the faculty union of the University of Northern Iowa recently filed a complaint with the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration against the state’s board of directors, saying that the committee “failed to provide a safe working environment.”

in a Long-term policy In a statement issued in May, the board of directors encouraged vaccination, but did not require vaccination, saying that there was no need to wear masks on campus, otherwise it would return to normal business in the fall. Chris Martin, vice chairman of the faculty union affiliated with the Association of American University Professors in Northern Iowa and a professor of digital journalism, said that this policy “hardly reflects the good health and safety made by Delta variants and contacting Iowa State Public University. decision making.”

Martin said that the Iowa State Board of Directors should restore the regulations on masks for public universities and require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated after the vaccine is fully approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

In addition to OSHA’s complaint, Martin’s union petition The committee developed a clause similar to that in the Northern Illinois Agreement, which establishes “clear and transparent benchmark data to trigger online transfers and decisions to resume face-to-face teaching.”

Northern Iowa said in a statement that it is aware of OSHA’s complaint and is waiting to learn more about the document. The university stated that it will continue to follow the principal’s guidelines, “and encourages but does not require masks to be worn on campus. We also strongly encourage all students, faculty, staff, and visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect their health and the health of others.”

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