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UGA Will Appoint Committee on COVID Response

UGA President Jere Morehead.

The University Council rejected a thorough critique of the problems inherent in UGA’s reopening plan Wednesday, voting down an endorsement of the joint resolution submitted by the faculty senates of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and Mary Frances Early College of Education.

The council did approve a new ad hoc COVID-19 Crisis Response Committee that would include 12 elected students, faculty and staff members. The proposal was approved 96-54, with six abstentions. The committee will participate in the administration’s discussions with the two active COVID working groups, the Medical Oversight Task Force and the Preventative Measures Advisory Board. It must submit a written report to the University Council and its executive committee on COVID-19 related status and policies. 

The meeting was held via Zoom, streamed live on YouTube and watched by over 1,000 people. A live commenting stream showed just how much tension, anxiety and emotion exists in the UGA community about the reopening of campus. Immediately following the meeting, the video was taken down.

“The health and safety of our faculty, staff and students have always been foremost in our planning efforts,” President Jere Morehead said in an opening statement. “I take deep personal offense at any claim or insinuation otherwise.” 

Many students—particularly graduate students—staff and faculty members have voiced concerns that they had not been included in planning the reopening efforts, and that mostly administrators were on the nine committees tasked with various aspects of crafting the reopening plan. The new committee is meant to facilitate better communication from all stakeholders to the UGA administration. 

The joint resolution was highly critical of reopening plans, and while it was approved by both faculty senates nearly unanimously, the University Council voted down the resolution with 64 in favor, 87 against and 12 abstaining. 

UGA’s plan for reopening campus for face-to-face classes continues to be criticized, as many are still alarmed at the lack of clarity provided for a variety of issues. Among them, the UGA community has continued to be vocal about concerns with inadequate testing without random sampling, quarantine options for students in the dorms, whether HVAC filter replacements have occurred in all facilities, the threshold at which the University System of Georgia (USG) will go online, and potential problems with how UGA will let the UGA community know about campus deaths and case counts.

“What became apparent to me after listening to the meeting is that in the best case—even if the administration have found the best way to protect UGA community, which I doubt—they are doing a poor job convincing faculty, staff and students that it is safe to come back to UGA now when numbers of COVID cases are still rising,” said Betina Kaplan, a professor of romance languages and member of the Franklin College Faculty Senate. “I am coming back to classes with fear and the strong impression that the administration is hiding information from us. Why didn’t they report Ana Gabriela Cabrera’s death? How many other things remain without being reported?

Cabrera was a 32-year-old UGA Housing employee who died recently of COVID-19, according to a GoFundMe account established by her family.

“We need to know exactly what the situation is to better protect ourselves and the community,” Kaplan added. “More than ever before during this crisis, we need more participation in the decision-making process. We need committees appointed by nomination from all [of the] UGA community and an administration capable of listening and acting based on what the community requests.” 

Joe Fu, a mathematics professor and treasurer of the United Campus Workers of Georgia union, called the University Council vote “disappointing but not surprising,” given that the council includes a large number of administrators. Fu wrote op-eds sharply criticizing UGA’s reopening plans as presented at the council meeting, as well as in an Aug. 5 webinar.