By Sumaiya Nasir | September 7, 2021
The university introduced a program on Wednesday to provide eligible faculty and staff members an option to work remotely as a result of rising concerns brought up by the United University Professions Union about faculty and student safety on campus.
“The University at Albany, as a vibrant residential campus, must be supported by a strong in-person presence to provide the highest level of service to the campus community,” said Todd Foreman, Vice President of Finance and Administration, in a statement sent out to faculty regarding the requests.
While faculty are not required to be vaccinated, as students are under UAlbany’s vaccine mandate, campus data suggests that 95% of faculty and staff are fully vaccinated, according to president of UUP’s Albany chapter, Aaron Major.
Despite precautions, overcrowding in classrooms due to the massive amounts of students on campus is cause for concern among teaching staff.
“I have two classes where students are sitting cheek by jowl with no social distancing,” said Nancy Roberts, a journalism professor. “When I asked if it would be possible to move into a larger classroom so everyone could spread out more, I was told that no room changes are being allowed for this. Apparently many other instructors are also looking to increase the size of their classroom, but none are available.”
Amy Block, an art history professor said, “Lecturing in an airtight mask, which I do, is extremely difficult. Going online would therefore be, in some senses, preferable. Moreover, for large classes that meet in small spaces, it would be the safest path. I hope that the precautions we’re taking in the classrooms prevent any significant outbreak.”
Delta variant and its dangers has changed many people’s views on how to proceed with the semester. Major said, “We (UUP) have members who are immunocompromised, and so potentially get less protection from a vaccine, others who are medically unable to be vaccinated, and others, including me, who have young children at home that cannot be vaccinated.”
“We of course would have liked to see a more flexible, thoughtful approach that considered our members' vulnerability in the context of a resurgent pandemic,” said Major.
Due to these concerns, UUP has worked with several members who have medical documentation that support a request to teach remotely. Those requests were being denied, according to Major.
UUP is not tracking the number of professors that applied for a telecommuting program, therefore a definite number of requests for such accommodations are currently unavailable.
“To anyone who thinks this is no big deal, I would say that just as we used to ask our parents when my generation was young, what they did in the second world war,” said Ben Szaro, a Professor of Biology. “Your kids will ask you in 20 or 30 years what you did during the pandemic. Think about how you will answer them.”
The university now introduces a program that will allow faculty and staff to resume a portion of activities remotely or in an alternate location, so long as they provide adequate proof their work can be performed just as well as on campus. This is not a full-time opportunity. Each application is considered on an individual and departmental basis and will determine how many days each applicant can conduct work off campus.
Applications may be sent in at any time and require faculty to submit a Telecommuting Application and Work Plan outlining specific work to be performed on approved telecommuting days to department heads and supervisors. Faculty members whose work requires in-person student and faculty interactions, such as classes and meetings do not qualify to telecommute for those days. Any individual work that does not require in-person meetings may be approved.
If accepted, faculty must complete orientations and telecommuting training provided by the university. This will cover the process of submitting work plans, software required for telecommuting and data security procedures. Faculty must submit progress reports to department heads on a regular basis, describing work completed while telecommuting.
UUP will be sending out a letter addressed to President Rodriguez and Provost Kim on September 13th expressing their disappointment with the university’s approach at handling the ongoing pandemic. They request that the same compassion and courtesies given to students be given to faculty and staff. They also request that mass indoor meetings be minimized as much as possible, and that faculty with medical conditions be given accommodations.
UUP will be holding an open meeting at noon on Wednesday to discuss these issues.
The ASP attempted to reach out to UUP to request their comment on the new telecommuting program. They were not available for comment at this time.
The program ends Dec. 31 unless extended by the university.