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UUNA’s Position on Reopening NAU to In-Person Instruction

The University Union of Northern Arizona, in association with the American Federation of Teachers representing faculty, staff, and graduate student employees at NAU, expresses great concern for the health and safety of our entire learning community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arizona has made great strides toward reducing COVID-19 infections since July. Premature relaxation of safety measures will lead to more preventable illnesses, deaths, and economic damage. UUNA-AFT speaks out on behalf of all the people of the university and our host communities to request that NAU:

  • Maintain existing remote instruction rather than adding significant in-person risks.

  • Give teachers and all employees freedom to decide for themselves the best mode of education in order to protect community health

  • Provide COVID-19 case numbers for all those who live and work on campus.

Protect Community Health and Continue Remote Instruction

We want to protect the lives and health of students, employees, and the Flagstaff community. There have been a total of 200,139 reported cases of COVID-19 in Arizona and 4,929 deaths as of August 26th, 2020. Coconino County hit a peak of 99 daily cases reported on July 4th. The rate of new cases in both Arizona and Coconino County has slowed to a reported 10 cases in Coconino County on August 21st. While the lowered daily cases in our state has been taken as a win from many public officials—medical professionals warn Arizonans that the threat of COVID-19 is far from over and, indeed, may surge once again in the coming months (Source: Coconino County´s positive test rate (positivity yield) dropped in the last few weeks but the highest rates are in the youngest age groups, including college-age residents.

We have already seen that opening NAU’s Flagstaff Mountain Campus—classrooms, housing, and dining—to over 20,000 undergraduate students in this context is irresponsible public stewardship. There have been reported outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus amongst returning RA’s, off-campus events featuring hundreds of unmasked students, and mixed messages about mask wearing and other personal safety procedures amongst NAU’s Administration.

UUNA-AFT calls on the Administration of Northern Arizona University and the Arizona Board of Regents to halt all plans to reopen campus to in-person learning on August 31st and to continue its policy of primarily remote and online teaching until a reliable system of testing and tracing is established or a reliable vaccine is readily available.

Give Employees a Choice of Working Modality to Protect Community Health

If NAU continues with its plan to hold in-person classes, in the context of the current pandemic, faculty, staff, and graduate student workers need the right to decide their work modalities based on their individual and family health needs. All faculty should individually decide the modalities for teaching classes, attending meetings, and holding office hours. Staff, faculty, and graduate student workers should also individually decide whether they will fulfill their work duties remotely or in-person. Further, no employees of the University should be forced to reveal personal and private health information that informs those individual decisions. The decisions made by employees to protect their health or the health of their family members should be free of repercussions from University Administration. 

Fulfill NAU’s Responsibility to Transparency and Communication

Communication and transparency on issues concerning COVID-19 and its impact on the university has been woefully lacking from the NAU Administration. The NAU and Flagstaff communities need clear numbers and reporting on current COVID-19 cases on campus. Inquiries about COVID cases on campus have been referred to the Coconino County COVID dashboard which includes reports of positive cases by zip code. The deficiencies of relying on this system are obvious as not all students, and most faculty and staff, do not live on campus. We need transparency about potential student outbreaks without fear of retaliation by the administration. While NAU Administration refuses to reveal such information, both UofA and ASU have committed to releasing data about COVID-19 cases on campus. NAU should follow the examples of its fellow Arizona institutions.

Claims made by NAU Administration that meeting these reasonable requests will result in further cuts or financial deficits demonstrate deflection of responsibility and disinterest in creative and moral action. Moving forward as NAU Administration has currently planned will have catastrophic consequences for the health of everyone connected to NAU—students, their families, faculty, staff, and all of the communities of which we are a part. We must do better.

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