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UGA Union Blasts Chancellor Wrigley’s ‘Reckless’ COVID Response

USG Chancellor Steve Wrigley.

The United Campus Workers of Georgia issued a statement Thursday calling University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley’s response to the COVID pandemic “reckless and irresponsible.”

The union said Wrigley’s retirement—which he announced last week, effective July 1—is “great news for campus workers” and called on the Board of Regents to take input from students, faculty and staff before choosing the next chancellor.

On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, Steven Wrigley, Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, announced his upcoming retirement. This is great news for campus workers throughout the university system. Chancellor Wrigley presided over a period of disastrous policies for the health and well-being of campus communities, first and foremost being a reckless and irresponsible COVID-19 pandemic response. The Chancellor and the Board of Regents have astounded campus workers by pushing for more and more in-person instruction as the pandemic worsened, seemingly for the benefit of private companies to whom crucial campus services have been contracted throughout a decade of austerity for public higher education.  Campus workers and students had to strenuously fight the Chancellor for a simple mask mandate in accordance with basic CDC guidance.

The Chancellor of the University System of Georgia is chosen by the Board of Regents, who are in turn appointed by the governor and rubber-stamped by the Georgia legislature. As the central authority in Atlanta has relentlessly commandeered more and more functions formerly performed by individual campuses, the people who live, work, and learn throughout the USG have seen their voices utterly discounted.

We call on the Board of Regents to democratize the process of selecting the next Chancellor and heed input from all sections of our campus communities, including faculty, students, and staff.  The appointment process should be open and transparent, with two-way dialogue occurring between students and employees at all levels.  We call on the Board of Regents to consider candidates with backgrounds in classroom instruction and public health who have the experience necessary to lead the workforce of our educational institutions through a deadly public health crisis in a way that prioritizes our health and well-being over business and political interests.

Let us conclude in a spirit of optimism: with Chancellor Wrigley’s retirement, a new era of cooperation and openness between administrators and campus stakeholders has become possible. We hope that the Regents will display the wisdom to choose it.

“We believe in-person instruction is best for the vast majority of students, and our plan is to provide a safe return to the classroom,” Wrigley told an Athens audience last month, although some professors have been critical of the policy.