BU Leaders Address Employees’ COVID Concerns at Latest Town Hall
BU Leaders Address Employees’ COVID Concerns at Latest Town Hall
Campus vaccination rates high, caseload low
During a virtual town hall on Thursday, University leaders sought to assure anxious questioners that as BU repopulates for the fall semester, it will be, in President Robert A. Brown’s words, “as safe as any place can be.”
Brown and other panelists unfurled numbers to make the point: BU’s vaccination mandate has been met already by 89 percent of students, 93 percent of faculty, and 86 percent of staff. The percent who are medically or religiously exempt from vaccination hovers at just around one percent for each group. Last year, before vaccines were available, the few cases of COVID-19 in the community involved “no cases of classroom transmission and relatively few cases of workplace transmission,” with the latter mostly involving employees commuting or eating together, said Judy Platt, chair of BU’s Medical Advisory Group and director of Student Health Services.
“I think we’re well on our way to having a very highly immunized community” by the start of fall semester, Brown said. Students were to be vaccinated by August 1, while faculty and staff have until September 2.
Vaccination and exemption percentages are publicly available on the University’s COVID Data Dashboard to maintain transparency, panelists reminded listeners. And other than social distancing, BU’s array of safety measures—mandatory vaccination, indoor mask requirements, weekly testing for those on campus (twice weekly for the unvaccinated)—will remain in force for the fall semester.
Questions during the hour-and-a-half event revealed the degree to which employees are worried about the lingering pandemic and the virulently contagious Delta variant that has plunged the country and the world back into elevated case numbers unseen for months. Other questions centered around BU’s new work-from-home policy, which permits certain employees to work remotely up to two days a week.
The panel said BU’s COVID tests check for all virus variants, including Delta and Lambda, and that the University is working with the state and Boston Medical Center to obtain and offer booster-shot vaccines this fall. The Biden administration has recommended a third, booster, shot be taken eight months after full vaccination with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Mandating a booster shot will be discussed, Brown said, recognizing the difficulty of its having to be administered on a rolling basis, depending on when recipients completed their initial round of vaccination.
Jean Morrison, provost and chief academic officer, said that she doesn’t anticipate a return to last year’s wide-scale remote study and work, a complicated and “very significant pivot” made unnecessary this fall by “a very broad range of protocols to protect the community.”
She said the “limited exception” to the indoor mask mandate for classrooms applies to lecturers who may address students, if all of them are masked, without being masked themselves. The University recommends social distancing and twice-weekly testing for students in this circumstance, she said.
Asked how students who must go into isolation (if they test positive for the virus) or quarantine (if they’ve had close contact with a positive-testing individual) should handle studies this fall, Morrison said: “We encourage faculty and students to do as they’ve always done when a student is faced with illness.” That is, the student should alert their professors, ask friends to share lecture notes, and keep up with the syllabus assignments.
With large-scale congregations planned for the fall, including the early October COVID-postponed Commencement for the Class of 2020 and Alumni Weekend, one questioner wondered if BU would reimpose gathering and social-distancing limits. Brown said those currently appear unnecessary, but “if we see indications that we need to pivot…we will certainly do so.”
Faced with the likelihood that some students will ignore the indoor mask mandate, Platt said the University is inspecting gathering spots like libraries and dining halls to suggest better signage and other alerts.
Morrison said her office and the Dean of Students office will shortly send an explanation of plans to enforce the daily symptom attestation requirement for students, involving a three-strikes policy—two notifications sent to persistently noncompliant students, followed by suspension until the person complies. Faculty may ask students to show their green digital attestation badges for classroom entry, but are not required to do so.
Much of the advice around the new work-from-home policy for staff boiled down to two points: certain details remain under review and will be announced in coming weeks. And employees should ask their manager, dean, or vice president if they have any questions about the policy or about seeking adjustments.
Morrison said faculty conversations with department chairs and deans would be especially crucial for professors with young children who aren’t eligible for vaccination and will require at-home parental care if they become sick. She has spoken with mothers on the faculty, and she said that the pandemic has revealed that “our society has not tackled this problem of childcare and how we manage this critically important issue.”
Patricia Sheehan, Human Resources executive director of talent management, said the recently emailed application for employees to specify which days they desire for remote work can be used to request more than that number. She said that whether to allow employees to switch to remote-work days in case of inclement weather was being reviewed.
While a blend of in-person and remote work will still permit collegial collaboration, modifications in guidelines are certain going forward, Brown predicted. “We are starting down a path that will undoubtedly change the University,” he said. “Change is going to be inevitable.”
A questioner asked for panelists’ personal experiences of the pandemic. Brown offered his “deep sense of loss [of] personal connection” during last year’s remote study and work. Platt, the mother of three children under 12 years old, said that after a COVID scare last fall, her family wore masks indoors and ate outside whenever possible.
“It was really challenging,” she said of that experience, as has been her schedule overseeing campus health during the pandemic. “I don’t think that I’ve ever experienced such a tremendous amount of work.”
I am having a hard time finding it reasonable to expect students who test positive for COVID-19 to rely on their peers for the two week quarantine. As a student with a full course load, I am growing increasingly concerned with the ability to stay on top of four classes without remote accommodations in the event that I test positive. Some professors refused to post class recordings during an LfA format; there is nothing that leads me to believe that they will be accommodating under these circumstances.
I’m supposed to jeopardize about my educational experience and GPA because BU doesn’t want to take the time or money to cope with education in the pandemic? Society is not back to normal, it is unreasonable to act like education is too.
Agreed. Covid is not a typical illness. Even if you are asymptomatic, testing positive requires isolation until you test negative, which could mean up to two weeks of missed classes. The school is going to have to offer something other than “ask your friends for their notes” or “find another professor to cover your class”. This concern is especially relevant to teaching fellows and instructors. If they get sick, who is going to teach the students who came here to learn? If they test positive more than once, how does that effect the course schedule, overall? I expect that with a variant as transmissible as Delta, a weekly testing regiment, and a campus that is basically functioning at capacity again, a lot of positive cases will emerge despite the addition of mandatory vaccination and mask mandates. This concern is in addition to the fact that there will be a good number of students who have had cabin fever the last year and may not be willing to forgo off campus social activities that serve as hot spots for disease transmission. After all, their chances of severe illness are significantly lowered by their age and vaccine status. The LFA averse approach doesn’t make a lot of sense if access to education is the priority. There definitely needs to be some level of online accessibility. I expect BU has a plan but simply isn’t being transparent about it yet.
“’We encourage faculty and students to do as they’ve always done when a student is faced with illness.’ That is, the student should alert their professors, ask friends to share lecture notes, and keep up with the syllabus assignments.”
I find this attitude very concerning and disappointing. Not only does it completely disregard all of the technology that we have (fairly successfully) been using over the past year and a half, but it also turns a blind eye to the fact that there is still a pandemic going on around us. And that we can do better!
I understand, and appreciate, the safety measures that BU has put in place on campus in order to provide an in-person experience while mitigating the spread of Covid. Campus has felt pretty safe over the last year (it wasn’t packed with students like it will be this year, but still).
However, knowing that we will be repopulating campus and knowing that vaccinated people are still getting covid (esp Delta) and knowing that we ABSOLUTELY WILL have students (and faculty) in isolation and quarantine — why in the world would we actively choose to disregard the technology we have available to us?! BU is striving to be a top research institution and yet we shy away from technology that can be beneficial for learning and for our students who are being asked to miss class for 2 weeks?!
I’m not suggesting allowing faculty to teach entirely remotely again – but if they can’t come to campus, let them host a virtual class. I’m not suggesting that we allow for vast hybrid attendance in classes – but if students can’t attend, at least allow for the ability to attend class virtually so they stay caught up. At minimum allow the class to be recorded so the student can watch asynchronously!
Relying on a classmate’s notes is NOT sufficient! The full lecture and class discussion, or questions that come up in class, are vital to the learning experience!
…not to ramble on but…we should also consider how many students who have been identified as a close contact and asked to quarantine will honor that request — Knowing they will have to miss multiple classes with no way to watch the lecture; knowing that they do not feel sick, have been vaccinated, and will be wearing a mask?
BU needs to provide a better option than “ask classmates” if/when a student has to go into covid-positive/contact isolation for 2 weeks. Missing 1/7 of all semester lectures across all classes is an unacceptable gap that will impact performance and add to an already high stress level (in addition to be covid positive/contact)
Last year the university demonstrated how to successfully provided remote access and this year this option must be available to students who have been sent to isolation (likely due to no fault of their own)
BU please step up and be the better university you can be.
I will be taking courses and teaching this fall. If I am exposed or test positive and need to quarantine for 14 days, does this mean I have to cancel the class I teach and miss those I’m enrolled in for 14 days? If I’m exposed more than once during the semester, will I have to miss classes and cancel my own class for nearly a month? Does the university prefer that I come into the classroom despite exposure should exposure happen more than once?
I am very concerned about the choices students and faculty may face if we are asked to choose between safety and academic success. Yes, we will be mostly vaccinated and masked, and I am grateful for these precautions – but breakthrough cases are still a threat and pose an especially large risk to those of us with unvaccinated children or other at-risk family members. I am very worried that I will have students or classmates who come to class KNOWING they’ve been exposed, putting me and my family at risk, simply because BU is not offering any real alternative.
Bring back LFA!
What on Earth is the rationale behind not allowing remote accommodations for student or instructor illness? Is the assumption that one or both groups would abuse the privilege? It’s foolish to act as if this academic year is one in which anyone could or should “do what we always did.”