Since the start of the spring semester, groups on campus have called for increased pandemic safety measures by writing press releases, sending letters to University administrators and creating petitions.
Students, staff and faculty activists have called for increased COVID-19 safety protocols for the spring semester.
Some of their demands included requiring classes to be taught online for the first two weeks, providing students with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and expanding the COVID-19 testing services offered by the ‘University of Minnesota.
In a press release sent on January 11, a coalition called UMN Students, Staff and Faculty United for Health and Safety called on the University to do more to deal with Omicron’s “viral blizzard.”
In light of news about the potential spike in Omicron cases and COVID-19 policy updates sent by President Joan Gabel and Provost Rachel Croson in early January, this coalition pushed for COVID safety protocols -19 stronger.
“We’re just trying to advocate for health and safety during the pandemic,” said Sumanth Gopinath, associate professor of music theory and coalition member. “We consulted extensively with professors from the School of Public Health, physicians and others who have expertise to inform what we said.”
The four demands of the press release were to require remote teaching for the first two weeks of this semester, to develop a plan to return to in-person teaching developed by School of Public Health faculty, to require high-quality masks and make them accessible to the university community and to expand on-campus testing services.
The same demand for high-quality PPE was reflected in a petition titled “UMN Must Provide Adequate PPE for Students” authored by sophomore law student Carli Cortina.
“We are expected to return to in-person classes with only a ‘face covering’ requirement,” Cortina wrote in the petition description. “Omicron is highly transmissible, and forcing us to return in person without effective masks (KN95, N95) knowingly exposes every student, professor, and employee of the university to a dangerous virus.”
According to Cortina, the University of Minnesota Law School affinity groups had similar concerns about the University’s COVID-19 safety protocol.
In an email to law school dean Garry Jenkins, those affinity groups expressed disappointment with the law school’s commitment to maintaining in-person classes.
“The general consensus I sense from the University is that people don’t want to be online and I think that’s true,” Cortina said. “But when it comes to being online versus being safe, I think we think our needs are being ignored.”
Jenkins sent an email responding to the law student’s concerns on January 12. In the response, Jenkins noted University policies such as vaccine requirement, recall recommendation, and free distribution of KN95 masks on campus, but ultimately reaffirmed the law school’s commitment. in-person classes.
“While I realize that a relatively large number of cases are likely to be troubling over the next few weeks, we plan to advance the in-person semester in accordance with University guidelines,” Jenkins wrote in the January 12 email.
Cortina added that while she and many law students agree that doing remote learning has been difficult, it’s also difficult to learn with the anxiety of catching COVID-19 while on campus. in-person class.
“There’s so much uncertainty,” Cortina said. “The goal is to be in person and make it feel normal. But it seems less normal because everyone [experiencing] increased anxiety.
While some professors and students are asking for an increase in the COVID-19 safety protocol, other professors say they want to come back in person because it’s difficult for professors to teach and students to learn online.
“In my opinion, teaching online is not the right way to teach,” said Emilian Racila, assistant professor of pathology. “Pathology is very difficult to teach online or by doing pre-recorded classes. The students, they don’t have the possibility to communicate, to ask questions, to obtain the explanations they need.
Similarly, medical students typically focus on direct patient interaction as part of their academic training, which is difficult to do in online courses, said Rahel Ghebre, a university professor in the Department of Health. obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health.
“It’s so important for our residents and fellows to have direct interaction with the patient, so we can’t really deliver good learning without having them face the patient,” Ghebre said. “It’s a much more complex interaction [and] there aren’t as many options to do it virtually.
Some professors say they hope to highlight how the University’s COVID-19 safety policies affect surrounding communities as outbreaks on campus will increase transmission rates across Minneapolis.
“I think the joy of being in the classroom and the nature of the in-person pedagogy is, for me, undeniable – it feels so much better,” Gopinath said. “But, we are trying to do what we can, not just to protect the U community, but to make sure that the wider community that we live in is not affected by us spreading the disease here, and then that we spread. beyond.