Faculty unions urge UF to be stricter on COVID guidelines

Two unions at the University of Florida published a joint statement demanding the university implement stronger guidelines related to COVID-19.

The same task force also criticized Governor DeSantis' handling of the pandemic.

A task force comprising two faculty unions at the University of Florida (UF) is expressing its concerns over the school’s COVID-19 policies headed into the fall semester. 

The Joint United Faculty of Florida at UF and Graduate Assistants United at UF COVID Task Force published a statement on August 5 calling on the university to “act quickly” in response to COVID-19 case numbers, citing that on July 31, “Florida reported 21,683 new COVID cases: the highest one-day total so far.”

“The University must act quickly to continually adapt to these changing—and accelerating—dynamics, and seriously reconsider current Fall 2021 re-opening plans and protocols,” the statement read. 

The statement also included a list of demands from the unions. 

One of the demands is that the university requires “at least weekly COVID testing for all unvaccinated individuals with continuation of prior quarantine protocols for those testing positive,”

The unions also said that “email reminders are not enough and are often relegated to ‘junk files.’” 

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Instead, the union suggests that “campus leaders of all types and levels must personally” encourage “universal vaccination for all UF students, faculty, and staff (with exceptions for medical, religious, and other valid reasons).”

Over the summer, multiple emails were sent to students encouraging them to get vaccinated. 

On July 2, an email was sent to students encouraging them to get vaccinated. The email said “Gators, the vaccine is our greatest tool in our continued fight against COVID-19, for our families, communities, nation, and the world at large. It is the best means by which to protect ourselves and others against the virus and any new strains.”

A similar email was sent to students on July 27 from the State University System of Florida encouraging all students to get vaccinated. 

The email said “To help us provide high-quality classes, student services, extracurricular activities, and athletic programs in a healthy environment, we strongly recommend that all students get vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus before arriving on campus.”

The unions also demanded that the school “provides remote learning teaching/learning options for all Fall 2021 class sections wherever possible, for all faculty and students, with expedited, clear petition/appeal procedures for faculty and graduate teaching/research assistants requesting and/or being denied off-site accommodation.”

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In May, an email was sent out to all UF students with an update to the school’s reopening guidelines and classroom layout. 

“Looking ahead, UF will transition to pre-COVID normal operations for the start of the 2021-2022 academic year June 28, as previously announced. Changes include returning to pre-pandemic classroom capacity for Summer B and Fall semesters. We will also resume full in-person participation in athletic and other activities on our campuses, including fan participation in stadiums and arenas,” the email read.

These demands come even though UF Health estimated in April that 80% of students and 90% of faculty members were vaccinated, based on data obtained through informal surveys. 

The task force also criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ claim that “that COVID vaccination and even mandatory mask-wearing is an unacceptable infringement on personal freedom in state institutions,” by saying that they “believe that is a serious, life-threatening error, and are appalled at his decision.”

As the Tampa Bay Times reports, the statement was also sent to UF President Kent Fuchs.

The fall semester at UF is scheduled to begin on Monday, August 23.   

But on Friday, UF changed its mask policy, stating that “every person on campus must wear a mask or cloth face covering in UF and UF Health facilities as required by the University’s Masking and Physical Distancing policy.”

However, when the student newspaper, The Alligator, asked for clarification on the mask mandate, “UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said masks are expected but not mandated.”

In response to that tweet, the faculty union said “NVM. @UF being the same as usual. Look, at what point will you finally pretend to care about your employees and students’ health and well-being?”

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Florida United Faculty Union and the University of Florida, but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @opheliejacobson