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American Association of University Professors


July 20, 2020

Dear Father Peter,

We hope this finds you well during this difficult time. We write to thank you for your letter to all faculty and to address your response to the letter that 14 of us recently sent to you. Since then, 91 faculty members have signed on to our letter. We are encouraged by some of the details you shared this past week, which indeed differ from what had been communicated to us previously.

We found Dean Lindenmeyr’s recent communication to the CLAS faculty useful: specifically the distinction she drew between choosing to teach online and requesting an accommodation and the assurance she provided during the CLAS Town Hall that no accommodation requests had been or would be denied. We hope that other Deans are communicating similarly with their faculty.
Although we appreciate the intent to promote equity by having faculty go through HR, we have learned that some faculty have felt pressured by chairs and program directors to teach in person and to refrain from submitting an accommodation request. Faculty Congress has had to advocate on behalf of these faculty, some of whom have not received recent pertinent information from their chairs in a timely fashion.

We understand that our view of the university’s finances through such documents as publicly available financial audits and tax records, 990s, and public reports of administrator salaries is a partial one. Nonetheless, according to data that we have seen, we believe there are numerous viable financial alternatives to undermining the academic mission of the University by making cuts to academic programs or departments (as mentioned in Provost Maggitti’s email of June 16th) or furloughing or laying off essential workers, such as janitorial staff and those who work in dining services. It is precisely because these workers, most of whom are minoritized, incur the greatest risk of infection if all students return to campus that we advocated for a partial return that, for example, prioritizes bringing to campus only those students with home environments that would not allow them to learn.

We remain concerned that the protections in place for essential workers continue to be inadequate, particularly in the absence of any clear plan to engage in comprehensive and ongoing testing, contact tracing, and norming to address what students are saying is likely to occur upon their return to campus (see Pagoto, 2020). We welcome your recent announcement that students will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to returning to campus and that all students will undergo baseline testing for COVID-19. We also hope to hear soon more details regarding surveillance testing and contact tracing (perhaps on a weekly basis, similar to Boston College's plan), which along with social distancing are key components.

In addition to asking that clear policies and protocol about these matters be developed and disseminated to all constituencies in a timely fashion, we reiterate our call for explicit protections for workers. We welcome your assurance that the health needs of faculty and staff will remain paramount. Yet, we continue to ask concretely that this solicitude for employees include extended paid sick leave, free on-site COVID-19 testing, workers’ compensation should they become ill, PPE (N95 face masks, shields and gloves, and plexiglass barriers whenever possible), and the ability to take time off and not be asked to work overtime if they do not want to. From our vantage point it is not clear that the university is going to provide all of these specific items.

We are encouraged by the inclusion of Dr. DiBenedetto and Dr. McDermott-Levy on the Policy Committee and the Operations Committee, respectively. Of course, it would have been preferable to engage their expertise earlier in the process, and we hope the university will make a greater effort to solicit and utilize in-house faculty expertise in the future, especially when decisions impinge on teaching and learning and the health and wellbeing of our community members. It is in this vein that we respectfully ask that Dr. Wheeland accepts more than two Faculty Congress appointments to the Policy Committee, including faculty from CLAS, VSB, and Charles Widger School of Law with expertise in financial management and budgeting, who could greatly inform the University’s efforts to navigate through the unfolding economic crisis. We also reiterate our request that telework be the default for all staff who can work from home, rather than an accommodation granted after paperwork is filed and approved. Further, staff who can telework should not be compelled to take unpaid leaves of absence if they prefer not to work on campus. We are dismayed to learn that this has been communicated to staff in some units.
Finally, we thought you might be interested in the results of a recent poll conducted by the Villanova AAUP chapter. Of the 517 respondents, encompassing all faculty ranks, only 17% judge that it is safe for classes to be held in person on campus this fall. We believe that a testing and contact tracing protocol, quarantining policies, and consequences for students who defy social distancing and masking guidance may allay these concerns, but we understand that this is a rapidly changing phenomenon. The baseline testing plan is definitely welcomed by faculty; 84% of survey respondents favored testing of all students before or upon arrival at campus. We also hope to see clear communication strategies developed for informing the local community, since the effects of the university’s reopening plan have public effects as well.
Thank you again for responding to our letter, attempting to bridge the chasm between your understanding of the university’s plan and ours, and remaining receptive to hearing from those who, like you, care deeply for this institution and desire not only to remain healthy but flourish.

Sincerely,

Prof. Theodore Arapis
Dept. of Public Administration
Prof. Gerald J. Beyer
Dept. of Theology & Religious Studies
Prof. Timothy M. Brunk
Dept. of Theology & Religious Studies
Prof. Q Chung
Dept. of Accounting & Information Systems
Prof. Jerusha Conner
Dept. of Education & Counseling
Prof. Rick Eckstein
Dept. of Sociology & Criminology
Prof. Massimo Faggioli
Dept. of Theology & Religious Studies
Prof. Anthony J. Godzieba Dept. of Theology & Religious Studies
Prof. Robert Jantzen
Dept. of Mathematics & Statistics
Prof. Maghan Keita
Depts. of History & Global Interdisciplinary Studies
Prof. Michael Levitan
Dept. of Mathematics & Statistics
Prof. Jill McCorkel
Dept. of Sociology & Criminology
Prof. Barbara Romaine
Dept. of Global Interdisciplinary Studies
Prof. Catherine Warrick
Dept. of Political Science
Director, Center for Arab & Islamic Studies

July 10, 2020
Dear Father Peter and Members of the Board of Trustees of Villanova University,

            We know these are difficult times for you as our university leadership.  However, we are compelled by our consciences to ask you to address our concerns.  The Second Vatican Council, upholding a long Christian tradition, held that all people “have a right to act according to the dictates of conscience” (Gaudium et spes, 26).  In our University founded on Catholic and Augustinian principles, we are exercising that right.

            The following words from the Villanova University’s Faculty/Staff “CARITAS Commitment” prompt us to write to you:

As members of a community that upholds the Augustinian Catholic values of Veritas, Unitas, Caritas (Truth, Unity, Love), each of us must pledge to do our part to help keep all of us healthy and safe. This shared responsibility—to be considerate of others and capable of complying with health and safety requirements—is at the heart of the CARITAS Commitment.

            In taking the Commitment to heart, we Villanova faculty (an independent group, with members from across the campus) have serious concerns, both medical and ethical, about its particular applications to the Fall 2020 Plan and about the process leading to the prioritization of on-campus instruction and housing.  In our judgment, a “responsibility to the community” means more than following masking, distancing, and cleaning protocols.  It includes not only (a) care for the entire community (all types of students, all types of staff, all types of faculty) but also (b) a clear awareness of the current situation in which the community lives—one of persistent and growing danger, and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, and (c) concern for the members of other communities (including family members, friends, and those in our geographical region) with whom Villanovans interact.  

            At its root, the CARITAS Commitment is about exercising justice both within the Villanova community and toward those with whom our community interacts.  Social, racial, and economic justice are integral elements of caritas.  While a handful of faculty have been a part of the process, not everyone has had a real voice in the formation of the University’s policies for reopening and our voices have often been sought after major decisions have been made.   For our part, we agree with the growing chorus of epidemiologists who warn that no university can safely reopen without accepting that some students, faculty and staff will become seriously ill and die (see, for example, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/06/30/there-is-nosafe-way-reopen-colleges-this-fall/). The latest research, which warns that airborne transmission of the coronavirus may be even a greater threat in indoor spaces than previously assumed (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/health/coronavirus-airborne-aerosols.html), indicates that health and safety issues are a moving target and that University policies need to keep up with the latest research.  Repeating that the CDC does not recommend mass testing, while many other universities (including Georgetown, Cornell, Penn, and Haverford College) are adopting robust testing regimens, does not suffice.  We are dismayed that experts on campus from the Biology Department and Nursing School have not been thoroughly involved in designing aspects of the reopening plan that pertain to testing, tracing and quarantining of students, and health and safety more generally.

            Villanova’s policies also need to address, beyond some vague mentions of risk, the persistent and unpredictable physiological and neurological damage already seen in COVID-19 sufferers, not only for people in “high risk” categories.  In addition, the fact that Black, Latinx and indigenous people, including young adults, are more than five times more likely to die from COVID-19 needs to be considered more fully when asking, or even requiring students, faculty, and staff from these groups to return to campus.    

            Given these facts, we believe reopening campus robustly imposes unacceptable risks on students, staff, faculty, and the surrounding community, which may likely experience a public health crisis should our campus become a COVID-19 “hotspot.”  Along with decisions already made by universities such as University of Massachusetts–Amherst, Rutgers, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and the California State University System, we believe that Villanova should offer the vast majority of its courses online, perhaps allowing a severely restricted number of courses on campus that require hands-on learning (for example, in science, nursing, engineering).  We believe this approach is best for the common good of Villanovans and the larger community.    Regardless of whether you can or cannot agree to such a decision, we ask that:

•       All students be allowed to choose to learn online if they deem it best for their safety, without having to go through LSS and submit sensitive, private health information

(students have circulated a petition with this same request);

•       Villanova test students who decide to return to campus for COVID-19 pre- and postarrival in order to establish a baseline of risk within the community, and then test randomly throughout the semester;

•       The needs of our most vulnerable students be prioritized, which demands supplying them with access to high-speed internet if necessary, housing for students in challenging situations who need a safe place, and consistently available counseling services;

•       All faculty be empowered to do what their consciences dictate for their own health, the health of their families, and health of the community, both at Villanova and beyond.  Faculty should determine the pedagogy and mode of instructional delivery (online, hybrid or in-person) that they believe is best for our students during this stressful time. They should be permitted to make this decision without having to submit documents to human resources with reasons for their choices, medical or otherwise (many faculty asked for this via Faculty Congress).  While we appreciate the efforts of chairs and deans to accommodate faculty as much as possible, there should simply be a universal policy;

•       Telework for staff remain the norm for the foreseeable future, rather than the exception, in accord with PA DOE guidance that “where possible and feasible, personnel should be allowed to telework”;

•       All employees who are essential to campus operations, especially those in precarious situations, be afforded paid sick leave, free on-site COVID-19 testing, workers’ compensation should they become ill, PPE (including N95 face masks, shields and gloves, and plexiglass barriers whenever possible), and ability to take time off and not be asked to work overtime if they do not want to;

•       No layoffs of staff or faculty be enacted, but instead the University should increase the payout from the endowment, use part of unrestricted net assets to support operations, redirect funds from the athletic to the academic budget, postpone all non-essential capital projects spending, and ask university leaders to take further cuts proportional to their salary and benefits.

            We know that Villanova faces an unprecedented situation, and that every decision or plan enacted will have some form of adverse consequences.  We ask that your decisions first and foremost be guided by the imperative to protect and preserve the health and sanctity of all human life and caritas above financial costs (for as St. John Paul II wrote, “the sacredness of life gives rise to its inviolability”).  Please consider as well the reputational damage to Villanova if and when people become sick and die.  We also ask you to remember that every decision has pedagogical and ethical import: the decisions taken at this critical juncture will teach our students whether we believe that being on campus, which is certainly something to be cherished, is more important than risking the health and lives of those who will inevitably become infected by COVID-19, a stark reality that the CARITAS Commitment itself, as well as members of the

 

administration, have all acknowledged.

Sincerely,

Prof. Theodore Arapis
Department of Public Administration

Prof. Gerald J. Beyer
Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Prof. Timothy M. Brunk
Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Prof. Q Chung
Department of Accounting and Information Systems

Prof. Jerusha Conner
Department of Education and Counseling

Prof. Rick Eckstein
Department of Sociology and Criminology

Prof. Massimo Faggioli
Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Prof. Anthony J. Godzieba
Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Prof. Robert Jantzen
Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Prof. Maghan Keita
Departments of History and Global Interdisciplinary Studies

Prof. Michael Levitan
Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Prof. Jill McCorkel
Department of Sociology and Criminology

Prof. Barbara Romaine
Department of Global Interdisciplinary Studies

Prof. Catherine Warrick
Department of Political Science
Director, Center for Arab and Islamic Studies

Consider joining today! Strength in numbers!

The American Association of University Professors is the professional society which spans all disciplines in higher education. The AAUP in its Villanova Chapter (founded in 1941) and in its state and national offices serves all faculty whether they are members of the Association or not. The role of the faculty in higher education in the nation and in the world is strengthened, however, by those who express their professional commitment through membership in the Association.

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