Updated (9/24/2021, 12:12 p.m.) with a response from the acting system chancellor to the faculty group.
More than 50 faculty members at the University of Georgia say they will require masks in their classrooms, in violation of the University System of Georgia’s rules, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
On Tuesday a group of mostly associate and full professors, many of whom have expertise in infectious diseases, wrote in a letter to university administrators that “all reputable research” indicates that “vaccination, social distancing, and mask requirements can reduce Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.”
“The absence of these requirements has led and continues to lead to infections and outcomes that were avoidable and [to the] continued spread of this highly infectious disease,” the letter says.
The system, which oversees 26 public colleges, has encouraged but not required masks to be worn indoors. Instructors aren’t allowed to mandate face coverings in their classrooms. The system has also encouraged but not required vaccinations against Covid. (Gov. Brian P. Kemp, a Republican, has barred state entities from requiring proof of vaccination and has opposed mask mandates.)
Due to the “extreme inaction and inappropriate requirements” placed on public colleges by the system’s Board of Trustees and the acting chancellor, the letter says, “we have chosen to take what action we can to protect the students and staff we directly teach or supervise, even if these actions are in defiance of current USG rules” and could lead to discipline, including dismissal. The signatories will require all students and staff members in their classrooms and laboratories to wear masks “until local community-transmission rates improve,” the letter says. The Journal-Constitution said the professors planned to start mandating masks in two weeks.
Teresa MacCartney, the acting system chancellor, backed the system’s decisions in a Wednesday letter addressed to the faculty member who had communicated the group’s plans.
“Research has shown us that while what we have done over the past 18 months worked to some extent, our students have not performed as well as when they are in the classroom and able to engage with their faculty in person,” MacCartney wrote. “It is for this reason the Board of Regents made it a priority that we return to the classroom.”
The good news, she wrote, is that Covid cases on the University of Georgia’s campus, along with on other system campuses, are declining. This week, 77 new cases were reported at UGA, a “sharp decline over previous weeks,” she wrote. And the positivity rate for surveillance testing is at its lowest point since such testing began last year, she said.
“Due to this decline in transmission, your intent to disregard USG policy and require masks ‘until local transmission rates improve’ is not necessary,” MacCartney said.
Faculty and staff members across Georgia have been agitating for months against the system’s Covid policies. At least one Georgia professor has already been made aware he could be disciplined for mandating masks.
Joseph H.G. Fu, a mathematics professor, told his students that he’d require face coverings in his classrooms and that he’d move his courses online if the number of local Covid patients surpassed a certain threshold. His dean, Alan Dorsey, told him in a letter that if he continued to enforce that requirement, or if he changed the modality of his instruction without the provost’s approval, it would “constitute grounds for disciplinary action.”
And a laboratory coordinator at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College was fired after she told her college that without the ability to require masks, she wouldn’t teach in person.