EMU Faculty & Staff Still Looking For More COVID-19 Protections As Students Return To Campus
Despite added precautions to protect the health of staff and students at Eastern Michigan University against COVID-19, some faculty members are still not satisfied they are being fully protected as students return to campus and classes get underway next Monday, August 30th.
WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Jeremy Proulx, EMU Federation of Teachers grievance officer, about their concerns and what they want EMU officials to do in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Lisa Barry: [00:00:00] Despite added precautions to protect the health of staff and students at Eastern Michigan University, some faculty members are still not satisfied they're being fully protected. This is Lisa Barry. To find out more about their concerns, we're joined now by Jeremy Proulx, grievance officer for the EMU Federation of Teachers. Thanks for talking to us. So what are your concerns at this point?
Jeremy Proulx: [00:00:22] Well, you know, all of us at EMU, we're all committed to our students. Were committed to EMU as a, you know, as an institution. And we're happy to be finally back in the classroom, even if it's in a limited way. And, you know, we want the campus to be as safe as possible. And, quite frankly, we don't think EMU is doing enough.
Lisa Barry: [00:00:44] Haven't you been in contact in conversation with them about this this week?
Jeremy Proulx: [00:00:49] We haven't spoken to them this week. We had meetings scheduled for this week, but the university canceled those meetings. Our second negotiation session that was planned to negotiate the, you know, the terms of our reopening and the health and safety policies in place.
Lisa Barry: [00:01:05] Did they say why they canceled?
Jeremy Proulx: [00:01:06] We don't really know why. What we do know is that it was about a day or so before the negotiation session, we had requested a whole bunch of data regarding vaccination rates and some other data about, you know, about the policies on campus and things like that. And, at that point, EMU said that they needed the legal counsel present at the meeting, and that the meeting is scheduled wouldn't work because they couldn't get their legal counsel on such short notice.
Lisa Barry: [00:01:37] So, bottom line, what does the Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers and American Association of University Professors want to happen?
Jeremy Proulx: [00:01:45] So, right now, we've got this kind of patchwork of policies in place. So, you know, if you're a student in campus housing or athletics or band or cheer, and I think there's another few other groups, vaccines are mandatory with a standard medical religious exemptions. And, you know, if you're a student, then you have to be fully vaccinated, or you have to be tested weekly. And if you're a faculty or staff, then, you know, neither vaccines nor testing are required. So, we think this is pretty confusing. And it also doesn't seem to make much sense. Well, COVID doesn't care what your status on campus is. So, what we'd like to see is a broader, universal vaccine mandate, or at least some kind of mandate that or some kind of vaccine policy that requires testing in addition to vaccines. And we'd also like to see you have some way to verify vaccination status. Right now, if the vaccination certification system that they use operates on the honor system. You know, it's got no requirement that people upload any proof of vaccination status. Those are the core things that we'd like to see. We'd also like to see EMU be more transparent with instructors when they identify a positive case in the classroom. Right now, EMU is going to rely on, you know, the person who's tested positive to be able to name the people who are sitting within six feet of them. And, you know, social distancing is down to three feet in classrooms. And so, if your student has tested positive, that's potentially quite a few people who are sitting around you that have been exposed. And, you know, students don't always know the names of everybody in the classroom. And so, you know, EMU said they want to do contact tracing, but, you know, they don't actually have the policies in place to be able to do it properly.
Lisa Barry: [00:03:26] And I think you also pointed out that most other schools and universities in the area just have an outright vaccination mandate for students and staff and faculty.
Jeremy Proulx: [00:03:38] Yeah, I mean, I think all the other universities in southeast Michigan have some form of a vaccine mandate and certainly stricter than what EMU's got in place. So, EMU is now kind of odd man out here on vaccination policies.
Lisa Barry: [00:03:55] But they have announced some increased protections. But you, again, don't think that's enough.
Jeremy Proulx: [00:04:01] No, I don't think it's enough. And, you know, as you know, our two instructional units also don't think it's enough, which is why we're here, which is why we're trying to to compel the university to take further steps and, you know, do what they can to make the campus as safe as possible. So, the term's coming up.
Lisa Barry: [00:04:20] And you do appreciate that this is kind of a moving target. Since the Delta variant became more prevalent, and we're seeing increased number of cases, it's almost like changing on a daily basis--the health risks of this virus.
Jeremy Proulx: [00:04:33] Yeah, it is. I mean, and it really is a moving target. And, you know, to the university's credit, they have they have been shifting and moving as things develop. Our concern right now is that we're just a few days away from the start of classes, and we've still got this kind of patchwork approach that's been kind of rolled out in bits and pieces. And, you know, if the past year and a half has taught us anything is that we need to be prepared for the unexpected. And, right now, all the data is suggesting that things are going to get worse. I mean, we're getting ready to invite thousands of people on the campus and all sharing the same spaces. You know, there are going to be cases on campus. There are going to be cases of community spread. You know, we are going to see that happen. We can't really avoid that. The question is, you know, how do we best protect ourselves? How do we get prepared?
Lisa Barry: [00:05:21] Speaking of the unexpected, classes start on Monday. Will there be any sort of picketing or job demonstrations by Eastern Michigan University faculty and staff?
Jeremy Proulx: [00:05:32] Well, right now, we're focused on staying healthy and keeping the campus safe. Neither of our units is planning, you know, any kind of demonstration or anything beyond just trying to raise as much awareness as possible and trying to continue our engagement with the university on these issues.
Lisa Barry: [00:05:50] Jeremy Proulx, grievance officer for the Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers. Thanks for talking to us here on WEMU.
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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at email@example.com