Campus workers union demands return to remote learning, adoption of stricter COVID guidelines

United Campus Workers of Arizona published an open letter demanding Arizona State University and University of Arizona revert back to virtual learning.

The letter calls for other standard including free respirator masks and vaccine mandates.

As the University of Arizona returns to campus today and Arizona State University returned to in-person learning Monday, some students are organizing last-ditch efforts to curb this plan.

United Campus Workers of Arizona represents a broad range of campus workers, included but not limited to “tenured, career-track, and contingent faculty; staff; graduate and undergraduate students,” defined as “everyone whose work makes the university.” 

The union operates based on the pillars of “mobilizing,” “organizing,” and “community and political action” to “build power and resources to sustain our movement for justice for higher education into the future.”

United Campus Workers of Arizona is taking aim at the two public universities by demanding stricter COVID-19 regulation policies. Four demands were outlined in an open letter to university administration and published to Twitter. The demands call for remote instruction through the month of January, free high-quality masks for campus occupants, expanded testing, and implementation of a vaccination mandate. 

“In light of explosive growth of the extremely contagious Omicron variant and rising COVID-19 hospitalizations across the country and in Arizona, the student, staff, and faculty members of United Campus Workers of Arizona call on our University administrators to show real leadership and protect our campuses and surrounding communities during the current surge,” the letter opens.

The letter also cites overrun hospitals as reasons to enact stricter guidelines. Currently, Arizona has achieved a vaccination rate of 57.6% of people in Arizona are fully vaccinated, with 68.3% having received at least one dose.

“Promoting vaccination – while critical in preventing acute/severe disease and death – is not enough to halt Omicron, which spreads quickly even amongst vaccinated and boosted people,” the letter continues. We cannot enter 2022 with 2021 policies in place and expect them to hold Omicron at bay on our campuses or in our communities.

[RELATED: WATCH: Quarantine depression? Students sound off on shutdowns, mental health crisis.]

Thus, the union outlined its call to action for mandated precautions.

It demands remote work through Jan. 28, with the option for high-risk employees to continue “flexible work.” In addition to a masking policy, the union requests that the universities provide “free, high-quality respirator masks (N95, KN95, KF95, or equivalent) to all students, faculty, and staff” in addition to providing instruction on their proper use. 

The letter acknowledges “cloth and surgical masks are not effective enough barriers to Omicron transmission,” despite the fact that they were eligible for use throughout the fall semester.

University of Arizona referred Campus Reform to an announcement addressing changes to the upcoming semester. Masks will continue to be required while indoors but will be limited to either surgical or higher grade, including the noted specifications. 

”Please note that cloth masks will no longer meet the requirement. However, you may combine a cloth mask (top layer) and a surgical mask (bottom layer) to improve fit and increase protection,” the announcement states.

[RELATED: ‘The science shows that classroom learning is safe’: University commits to in-person learning]

Additionally, the letter addresses a need for “twice-weekly COVID-19 testing for all on-campus students, staff, and faculty,” as well as a vaccine mandate. Exceptions, however, could be made for religious and medical purposes as is required by federal law.

Currently, both Arizona campuses encourage vaccination but do not require proof of vaccination for students to access campus. 

The letter concludes by addressing the “scale and severity” of the Omicron variant, calling on the community to not “abdicate [their] responsibilities.” 

“Finally – in the spirit of shared governance – we strongly encourage our leaders to increase transparency and solicit more participation from rank-and-file staff, student workers, and faculty in setting pandemic-related policies going forward,” the text reads.

The debate over the efficiency of remote learning has been contested throughout the pandemic.

As the Omicron Covid-19 variant sweeps through the nation, schools across the country have reverted back to early pandemic strategies of remote learning. 

Campus Reform has reported that schools including the California State University system, Stanford University, Harvard University, Emerson College, and George Washington University are beginning the spring semester online.

In 2020, Campus Reform reported that 90% of students reported negative reviews of the educational structure in an Axios and College Reaction poll, with three out of four students admitting “distance learning” is “worse or much worse” than the traditional classroom setting.

Additionally, 13% stated a preference to resort to a gap year rather than return to in-person learning. 

Furthermore, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center published a study last spring confirming that enrollment in college students had significantly decreased, with a 4.9% drop in undergraduate enrollment in one year.

Campus Reform has reached out to United Campus Workers of Arizona and both universities for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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