Letter to the Editor: “An Open Letter to the Georgia Southern Community”

Letter+to+the+Editor%3A+%22An+Open+Letter+to+the+Georgia+Southern+Community%22

Georgia Southern Chapter of the American Association of University Professors

We, the Georgia Southern University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), write to express our grave concerns regarding the current state of our university, highlighted by the 508 new positive cases reported for the week of 8/24- 8/31/2020.  As the vast majority of these cases are in Bulloch county,  Statesboro currently ranks 5th in the nation in new cases as a proportion of population.  The AAUP is a non-profit, national professional organization dedicated to the principles of academic freedom and shared governance.  The Georgia Southern chapter of the AAUP has been active for several decades, and our current membership includes professors across all colleges and multiple campuses of the university.  As we have moved into the third week of the semester, our membership has closely followed the status of Covid-19 cases on our campuses and has heard concerns from many students, staff, and faculty who are reluctant to speak publicly.  Our chapter, along with non-AAUP colleagues who have contacted us, have identified several concerns related to the university’s response to the global novel coronavirus pandemic impacting our communities.  Below we outline three primary concerns along with our recommendations for addressing them.

  1. Covid-19 Testing: We thank the administration and University Health Services for providing relatively low-cost testing to students.  We urge the university to expand testing as much as possible, both to shorten increasing delays in test availability (some students have reported waiting nearly a week to get tested) and to protect all residents of Bulloch, Chatham, and Liberty counties.  We implore the university to take immediate action on testing, especially in response to the August 23, 2020 White House Coronavirus Task Force report on the state of Georgia.
  2. Covid-19 Positive Case Reporting:  We applaud the administration for its decision to report positive Covid-19 case numbers.  We hope that the reporting will soon display critical data including the number of persons quarantined and percent positive test rates. In the interests of transparency and safety, all Covid-19 data should be reported on a daily basis.
  3. Student, Staff, and Faculty Safety:  We applaud the university’s decision to make alternate work and learning accommodations available to more members of our community. Despite these and other health and safety efforts, many members do not feel safe coming to our campuses.  Faculty members are receiving emails daily from students who live with an at-risk person in their household, and/or simply do not feel safe on campus despite the university’s efforts.  Yet, without medical documentation stating they are in a high-risk group, faculty have very few options to help these students, given the administration’s direction to provide accommodations only to high-risk students (this is also the case with many faculty whose requests for remote teaching were denied on similar grounds).  This micromanaging of faculty teaching by the University System of Georgia enforced by the Georgia Southern administration serves as both a threat to public health and a violation of academic freedom.  We urge the administration and the University System of Georgia to allow faculty greater flexibility in conducting their courses, especially regarding the mode of delivery.

The Georgia Southern chapter of the AAUP calls on the university administration to contact USG Chancellor Wrigley to request a move to fully online instruction.  As of August 31, 2020, Georgia Department of Public Health reports a skyrocketing of Covid-19 cases in Bulloch County, with 735 cases/100,000 persons, up from 266 on 8/23/20 (a 176% increase).  We ask the administration to take this action to demonstrate its stated commitment to prioritize the health and safety, not only of the university community, but also the broader Statesboro, Savannah, and Hinesville communities.  It is not hyperbole to suggest that the lives of Georgia residents living in these locales are in the hands of USG Chancellor Wrigley and the Georgia Southern administration.