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Groups issue letter of censure against UVU administration on COVID-19 protocols

By Ashtyn Asay - Daily Herald | Jan 25, 2022

Courtesy Utah Valley University

President Astrid S. Tuminez stands in front of the welcome back sign at UVU on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.

Two teacher groups at Utah Valley University issued a letter of censure Monday, stating that the school administration’s response to COVID-19 has been unacceptable.

A letter from the local American Federation of Teachers chapter and the David R. Keller Chapter of the American Association of University Professors at Utah Valley University addressed to the Utah Board of Higher Education publicly censured the UVU administration — namely President Astrid Tuminez, Provost Wayne Vaught and Val Peterson, the vice president of administration and strategic relations.

“Having repeatedly expressed our ongoing concerns regarding the university’s failure to adequately protect the health and well-being of our community…. [we] regrettably resort to publicly censuring our administration,” read the letter. “For countenancing unsafe and unhealthy conditions in work and learning spaces shared by students, staff, and faculty.”

According to UVU’s website, the university currently recommends that face coverings be worn in all campus buildings. However, they are not required. Additionally, UVU offers COVID-19 vaccinations at an on-site clinic. The university began requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 at the beginning of the Spring 2022 semester.

However, according to the letter, the two groups view UVU’s COVID-19 protocols as weak, unenforceable recommendations that seemed to be made to accommodate individuals who are unwilling to wear a mask or get vaccinated.

“Far from protecting the university community, these protocols put it at substantial risk,” read the letter. “Faculty, moreover, have practically no shared governance of these protocols, having been given no real input into their development and implementation.Yet even as the university now finds itself incapable of testing, contact tracing, and classroom case monitoring, it is faculty who are scrutinized for modifying courses in accordance with faculty, staff, and student health needs.”

The two groups finished off the letter by calling for the return of a mask mandate on campus and asked that faculty members be able to use tools for online learning at their discretion, without the fear of retaliation for the remainder of the spring semester, and during any future semesters impacted by COVID-19.

Scott Trotter, the senior director of communications at UVU, stated that the university has addressed the pandemic similarly to other Utah universities and that requiring students to wear masks would violate state law.

“We are addressing COVID the same as the other universities in Utah. We are restricted by state law to require students to wear masks,” Trotter said. “We can encourage, which we do, but we can’t require them. The people who wrote the letter are blaming us for the state law, which makes no sense.”

Rick McDonald, an English professor at UVU as well as vice president of the AFT and secretary for the AAUP, stated that the two groups understand the legal constraints placed upon universities by the legislature, but that they hope school administrators will push back against the legislature in order to get stronger COVID-19 protocols.

“We knew going in that the school was going to say that their hands are tied by the legislature… we want them to push back against the legislature the way we are pushing back against them,” McDonald said. “We want to show that just because your boss tells you something doesn’t mean you can’t tell your boss that they’ve made a bad decision.”

Trotter provided the following statement on behalf of UVU:

“At Utah Valley University, we work closely with health experts to rigorously protect the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff within the confines of state law. We consistently encourage all to follow COVID-prevention protocols, and like many other universities, mandated vaccinations for Spring Semester with personal, medical, and religious exemptions, as required by law. Free testing, vaccines, and booster shots are also available to students and employees on campus, and we are seeing record numbers of our UVU community being tested and vaccinated.”

Courtesy photo

The letter of censure addressed to the Utah Board of Higher Education.

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