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Faculty union predicted in-person learning would lead to deaths, but won’t say if it actually did

‘I can’t teach when I’m dead,’ an August rally sign said

Six months after students and faculty held a “die-in” at the University of Georgia in protest of the university’s fall reopening plans, Professor Joseph H.G. Fu is still critical of the steps that the university took to reopen campus.

However, he would not tell The College Fix if concerns about the coronavirus and possible deaths on campus came true.

Graduate students and professors sent a letter to the administration in August that asked the university to allow instructors to opt-out of in-person instruction. “[W]e strongly urge policies and support that emphasizes and prioritizes the health, safety, and well-being of all campus workers, students, and community members.”

“I can’t teach when I’m dead,” read a sign at the August die-in, according to The Telegraph.

“It is difficult to isolate the effects of UGA policies on the health of Clarke County and the Athens community,” Fu said in an email to The Fix. Fu is a member of the United Campus Workers of Georgia, a union that helped organize the die-in.

The campus workers union did not respond to emailed requests in the past several weeks for comment on the die-in and the current coronavirus situation on campus.

Fu referred The Fix to data from local hospitals and a UGA website that tracks coronavirus in wastewater.

MORE: Penn State graduate employees hold ‘die-in’

He also provided a link to a study that found that coronavirus infection rates increased in counties where universities reopened.

“Not uga specific, but some statistical evidence that the uga/USG approach was (and is) ill-considered.” Fu said and included a link to a CNN article summarizing the study.

Fu did not respond to two follow-up emails asking if he knew of any deaths from coronavirus at the UGA campus.

A December 20 article in the student newspaper The Red and Black said that one employee died over the summer due to COVID-19. However the article does not say if the employee contracted coronavirus while on campus and the university provided few details.

The student paper counted 4,920 cases among UGA community members as of December 16. The COVID dashboard pulls from “surveillance screening” and testing and several local sources, including the university’s health center.

Another 1,500 cases connected to the UGA community were reported since then, according to an analysis by The Fix.

A university spokesperson said the school has been following medical advice on how to safely reopen. However, he did not provide information on if any UGA people had died.

MORE: Cornell Resident Advisors strike for COVID ‘hazard pay’

“Adherence to the recommendations of health and safety experts has been instrumental to our ability to keep the campus community safe,” Greg Trevor told The Fix via email. He said the university has been following CDC and George Department of Public Health guidance, as well as that of the University of Georgia system.

He also said the university relies on a “Medical Oversight Task Force” made up of university professors. The university will continue to use in-person learning.

“Face-to-face instruction will increase with the expansion of classes into nontraditional spaces including UGA’s Chapel and Tate Theatre (which was used in the fall), Sanford Stadium and the Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel,” Trevor said.

The University of Georgia has expanded their testing to “1500 per day,” and the university also has “500 rooms available for quarantine and isolation.”

“All of the safety measures taken in the fall—socially-distanced classrooms, requirements for face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained, hand sanitizing stations, improved filtration systems, plexiglass shields, etc.—remain in place this semester,” Trevor said.

The university is working on a vaccine distribution plan, he said.

MORE: Cornell professor explains why coronavirus rates are much lower than he predicted

IMAGE: Athens Banner-Herald/OnlineAthens.com

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Jeremy Hill is a student at Boyce College. He is studying philosophy, politics and economics.