Spring semester begins January 28. Many members of the CUNY community may be ill with COVID, recovering and isolating after illness, or caring for family members. The path of the omicron variant is not fully predictable. Despite widespread expectation among public health officials that infections may soon subside in NYC, the hospitalization and fatality rates, which lag behind infections, continue to rise, and infections are likely underreported given the prevalence of at-home testing. The strain on families and institutions, particularly the City’s healthcare system, is considerable.
CUNY intends to offer at least 70% of classes in-person this Spring. Their continued rigidity around this contributes to scheduling difficulties, stress, and enrollment shortfalls. Despite the eagerness that we and our students share about returning to in-person learning and the supportive environment that flourishes on campus, pandemic conditions in the City highlight the need to improve conditions on our campuses first.
- Community safety dictates that CUNY should make the first two weeks of spring semester a transition period where most non-essential work and teaching is done remotely. Planning ahead for a discrete two-week window is the least disruptive path to a safer, more in-person Spring term.
- The State mandated vaccination for CUNY faculty and a booster for students, but is not requiring vaccinations for staff. This is a mistake from a public health perspective and as a matter of workplace equity. CUNY should immediately negotiate the terms of the vaccine implementation for all members of the PSC.
- CUNY surveillance testing should be enhanced so a larger percentage of the vaccinated members of the campus community are regularly tested and the results clearly reported and tracked over time on CUNY’s COVID dashboard.
- CUNY should direct federal relief funds to provide medical-grade masks to members of the campus community on-site, along with free rapid test kits.
PSC leadership will seek to negotiate these provisions with CUNY, but everyone has a stake in the outcome and a role to play in achieving it. Our Health & Safety Committee is training members to conduct spot-checks of ventilation in facilities with potential problem areas. Chapter leaders and members have successfully organized to challenge unreasonable policies on their campuses. CUNY should act now with prudence in order to increase the likelihood of a more fully in-person Spring semester, one in which each campus can flourish as an academic community.
James Davis, President